Indian Country Resources

The complex history between the federal government and American Indian tribes has created a complex division of authority between federal and tribal governments, including on issues related to oil and gas development in Indian country (see definition of "Indian country").

It is important that anyone considering engaging in oil and natural gas extraction activities in Indian country be aware of the environmental regulatory and program administration roles of federally-recognized Indian tribes, EPA or other federal agencies.

Basic Background – Regulatory Responsibility

Generally, tribes retain civil regulatory authority over tribal member activities in Indian country. Tribal civil regulatory authority over non-tribal member activities in Indian country is generally limited unless the nonmembers have a relevant consensual relationship with the tribe, or the activities threaten or have some direct effect on the political integrity, economic security, or health or welfare of the tribe.

The Clean Air Act (CAA), Clean Water Act (CWA), and Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) expressly provide the authority for EPA to approve tribes to play essentially the same role in Indian country that states do within state lands. Other environmental statutes also have important roles for tribes. Where a tribe administers an EPA-approved program, EPA maintains oversight responsibility in the same manner as it would for approved state programs. EPA maintains a list of tribes with approved programs.

The majority of regulatory activity under federal environmental laws in Indian country is currently conducted by EPA and is known as EPA direct implementation in Indian country. EPA’s direct implementation role in Indian country is significant because very few tribes have as yet sought and been approved by EPA to administer environmental regulatory programs in the same manner as states. Further, as a general matter, states are not approved by EPA to administer regulatory programs under EPA’s statutes in Indian country. In most cases, therefore, EPA is the entity administering environmental programs – including CAA, CWA, SDWA, and RCRA programs – in Indian country. Additional background information is available from the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project.

Readers are advised to contact EPA or the affected tribe or tribes to learn more about regulatory program administration in Indian country. Terms of art and definitions unique to Indian country are found in the Glossary section.

More specific information on EPA program administration is found in other areas of the Portal, particularly the federal “Statutes and Regulations” sections (U.S. EPA and Non-EPA sections).

Points of Contact

For more detailed information about regulatory responsibility in Indian country, contact:

US EPA

Many of the laws and regulations that apply throughout the U.S. also apply to Indian country. For more information on other regulations, policies and resources that are specific to Indian country, the following may be useful:

 

NCMS

Assistance Centers
Funded by EPA through a Cooperative Agreement
EPA

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