Collaborative Problem Solving: A Tool to Address Fracking Concerns

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By Danny Gogal

The continuous passing of rumbling eighteen wheeler trucks, utility vehicles, pick-up trucks and cars witnessed on April 8, 2014, is a familiar site to those visiting or living in New Town, North Dakota. Located within the Fort Berthold Reservation, it is home to the Three Affiliated Tribes (TAT) – Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes. The regular flow of traffic in such a remote town is the result of the burgeoning business of oil and natural gas extraction, made possible by advances in technology for accessing oil and gas in shale formations found deep in the Earth through horizontal drilling and the fracturing of rock, commonly referred to as hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

I arrived in the afternoon to begin a three day training workshop on collaborative problem-solving, appropriate dispute resolution, and environmental laws. EPA supported the workshop in response to a TAT community-based representative’s request for an interagency meeting and training in North Dakota for tribes, indigenous organizations and tribal members on issues of environmental justice.

Untitled-3The unprecedented amount of oil and gas development has enhanced job opportunities, significantly lowered unemployment, and is bringing in substantial revenues to the TAT, resulting in the elimination of the tribes’ debt.  However, it is also straining the reservation’s infrastructure, overstretching the resources (personnel and financial) and capability of the TAT’s departments. This, of course, includes the environmental department, which is facing significant environmental and public health concerns, such as the proper disposal of hydraulic socks and fracking fluids, and concerns about the flaring of gas.

The TAT tribes’ government faces challenges that are experienced by virtually every other government: the need to grow their economy to obtain revenue to meet the needs of the community and to do it in a sustainable way.  This is not easy, and is even more challenging in Indian country due to the myriad of laws and regulations and the unique political status of federally recognized tribes.  However, experience has shown that sustainable development can be effectively accomplished when the key parties are meaningfully involved, the necessary tools are available and used, and an appropriate collaborative approach is utilized.

Untitled-1Approximately 40 tribal community-based representatives, TAT tribal government officials, academia, business and industry, state government representatives, traditional peacemakers, and federal officials from the departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Bureau of Land Management, and Environmental Protection Agency, participated in the workshop.

The workshop provided training on collaborative problem-solving approaches, dispute resolution techniques, including mediation/negotiation processes, skills and tools, federal statutes that pertain to environmental and public health protection, grants/financial assistance programs, federal tribal and community-based programs, and federal Indian law and policy.  It also provided the participants the opportunity to enhance or build new working relationships and identify issues of mutual interest for which they can collaborate to address their environmental and public health concerns, as well as other quality of life interests of the TAT communities.

I am hopeful that one or more collaborative approaches will effectively be used to address the range of concerns facing the TAT communities.  I am encouraged by a participant’s statement on the evaluation form noting that a key benefit of the workshop was “meeting people to build collaborative relationships with.”  Additionally, at the Workshop, a tribal council member noted his support for a public meeting with oil and gas developers to enhance understanding of interests and concerns among the stakeholders on the reservation.

Finally, plans for the a public meeting of the Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (IWG) to focus on the environmental justice concerns of federally recognized tribes and indigenous peoples is still being planned and is projected to be held in September 2014 in Bismarck, North Dakota.  I encourage tribal governments, indigenous community-based organizations, tribal members, and other interested parties to attend the meeting to discuss how we can work collaboratively to effectively address environmental justice issues in Indian country and in other tribal areas of interest.  Information on the IWG public meeting will be available soon on the IWG web site.

About the author:  Daniel Gogal has a public policy, environmental policy, and public administration background and has worked on tribal and indigenous environmental policy and environmental justice issues for over 25 years.  He is the Tribal Program Manager for the Office of Environmental Justice, where he has worked for the past twenty-two years.

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Environmental Justice: From Strategic Planning to Action

By Gary S. Guzy

What does it take to integrate environmental justice principles into our programs and services?

The answers poured in enthusiastically from senior officials across the Federal Government at a recent special Deputy Secretary-level meeting of the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group. I hosted this meeting along with U.S. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe to mark the completion of an historic strategic planning effort.

Building on the Obama Administration’s commitment to strong environmental and health protections for all Americans, Federal agencies and offices have been revisiting and re-invigorating their approach to environmental justice. We set out our roadmap for concerted Federal Government action last year in an interagency Memorandum of Understanding, in which agencies committed to publishing environmental justice strategies and annual progress reports on their implementation of those strategies. When the deputies gathered at our meeting, the final strategies had just been released. To ensure their relevance and rigorous implementation, the strategies reflect public input, and they focus on engraining environmental justice principles in core Government practices and programs.

We agreed it was time to transition from strategic planning to action. As a Working Group, we decided that  to succeed, we must prioritize our actions and leverage existing resources as much as possible, including through developing and expanding public-private partnerships and sharing best practices across agencies. I jotted down the following examples to give you a sense of what this means in practice:

  • Deputy Secretary David Hayes described the Department of the Interior’s work with private companies to help provide renewable energy to remote Native Alaskan communities.
  • Assistant Secretary Howard Koh from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that the health impact assessment tools that the Department is developing will enable Federal decision-makers across the Government to identify and consider public health impacts, including those that disproportionately apply to low-income and minority communities.
  • The Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are developing staff and stakeholder training on environmental justice principles which may be applicable to other Federal offices as well.

As someone who worked in the Federal Government when we first began considering environmental justice principles two decades ago, I am heartened by where we are headed today. With newfound direction and momentum, we are answering the call for systematic and durable applications of environmental justice principles to our programs and services, so we can see meaningful results.

About the author: Gary S. Guzy is Deputy Director of the Council on Environmental Quality.

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Federal EJ Strategies Mark a Major Development in the Advancement of Environmental Justice

By Lisa Garcia

Since the start of the Obama Administration, we at EPA and other federal agencies have made tremendous strides toward addressing the public health and environmental problems that exist in many low-income, minority, and tribal communities across the country.

Ever since the EPA and the White House reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) for the first time in 10 years, we are collaboratively and comprehensively bolstering environmental justice efforts across federal programs, policies and activities.

Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than our recent release of federal agency environmental justice strategies. More than 10 EJ IWG agencies released or updated their strategies which include efforts to, monitor pollution, provide grants and technical assistance to stakeholders, and improve job training. For example, the Department of Commerce is providing competitive grants to support workforce development in economically distressed and underserved communities. I often hear when I am out in communities, that efforts like these make a real difference, both for the participants who receive job training and the neighborhoods they serve. Find out more about the efforts EPA has planned in our strategy, Plan EJ 2014.

These strategies also encourage agencies to work together to ensure the necessary resources and expertise are available to address challenging environmental justice issues. The Partnership for Sustainable Communities is an excellent illustration of how, by working together, the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Transportation (DOT) and EPA are helping to improve access to affordable housing, provide more transportation options at lower costs, and protect the environment in communities nationwide. This partnership is making a big difference in communities, including Bridgeport, Conn, where more than 90% of the population is low-income or minority.

In 2010, Bridgeport was chosen to be one of EPA’s EJ Showcase Communities, a project that seeks to bring together government and other organizations to improve the delivery of services in communities with environmental justice concerns. Now, through improved collaboration between federal agencies, Bridgeport community leaders are leveraging more than $25 million to advance environmental justice—including a $14 million Department of Education grant that is helping low-income and minority students become college ready and an $11 million grant from DOT to support infrastructure improvements including creating bikeways and connections between the waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods.

Through continued collaboration, like the effort in Bridgeport, EPA, federal agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia, can each play a role in ensuring that all communities are protected from environmental harm and benefit from important federal government activities.

About the author: Lisa Garcia is the Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice to Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.