Tribal and EPA accomplishments over the Last 50 years
By Scott Mason
During my tenure at the United States EPA, I have had the pleasure of meeting with many tribes across this beautiful country. I’ve listened carefully to the views, concerns and plans of tribal leaders, and on these visits, I’ve witnessed first-hand the majestic mountains, coastal plains and rugged mesas – to name a few of the geographical features that make up Indian country. As we mark EPA’s 50th anniversary, our commitment to protect human health and the environment in Indian country remains unyielding.
As a proud citizen and enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, I am aware of the unique challenges that individual tribes face. Moreover, we recognize the COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting tribal communities. Tribes are grappling with the difficult task of implementing environmental programs on their tribal lands, while alleviating the impacts from the pandemic. EPA, under the Trump Administration, is continuing our commitment to help tribes protect public health and the environment.
This year, as we celebrate EPA’s 50th anniversary, I am pleased to highlight the important environmental progress tribes have made over time with EPA’s assistance, especially when considering the unique issues with which they are confronted.
Since joining the EPA, I have always kept in mind that tribal governments and environmental agencies do not exist as adjuncts to the federal government. The relationship with tribes 50 years ago, at the creation of our agency, was very different. Today, tribes have greater experience building environmental programs and are more sophisticated and robust than ever before. Over the years, EPA has aimed to create a legacy of respectful, government-to-government interaction with tribes. Under the Trump Administration, we are focused on making this legacy as successful as it has ever been.
Additionally, in some areas of the country where tribal communities are economically distressed, President Trump has led efforts to vitalize these previously forgotten places. I’m proud of the work that our agency is doing in conjunction with the White House to ensure that tribes located in Opportunity Zones are able to multiply the impact of President Trump’s tax reform package and attract more economic development.
For years, American Indian nations have taken on a greater role in environmental protection on their own lands, including through our process for delegating regulatory authority to tribes, called Treatment in a Similar Manner as a State (TAS). This delegation process provides tribes essentially the same authority in Indian country that states have within their respective borders. I’m especially proud that since January 2017 there has been a 100% increase in regulatory program delegation approvals when compared to the previous four-year period.
EPA salutes the progress tribal nations have made and recognizes the importance of our continued commitment to improving access to safe drinking water and other environmental protections in Indian country, which are all the more important amid the current pandemic.
These accomplishments are just a few of the EPA-Tribal milestones realized in the last 50 years. We owe these achievements to the dedicated work of EPA and tribal professionals across the country as these tangible results demonstrate the success of the EPA-Tribal partnerships. Together, we are building a cleaner and healthier environment for Indian country.
About the author: Scott Mason is Director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s American Indian Environmental Office (AIEO). AIEO lead efforts across the Agency to protect human health and the environment in Indian country. Before coming to EPA, Scott was a vice president and the executive director of federal programs at The University of Oklahoma (OU), where he led state and federal relations for all three of the university’s campuses. Prior to joining OU, Scott served on the staff of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, as well as on her gubernatorial transition team. Scott is a proud citizen and enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and is 5th generation western Oklahoman.
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