DEVELOPING ENVIRONMENTAL LAW IN INDIAN COUNTRY

September 30, 2013 Comments Off on DEVELOPING ENVIRONMENTAL LAW IN INDIAN COUNTRY

Professor Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner recently posted a working paper, entitled Examining Tribal Environmental Law, that reviews the existing tribal laws governing environmental protection and provides some initial thoughts on further development of tribal environmental law.[1] In this article, Professor Kronk (Director of the Tribal Law and Government Center at the University of Kansas School of Law) surveyed the publicly available tribal laws and found that just over one-half of all federally recognized Indian tribes have enacted an environmental law in at least one of four categories (air, water, solid waste, and environmental quality). She also found that only the Navajo Nation has enacted tribal environmental laws in all four categories.

After discussing the legal and jurisdictional context for tribal environmental law, and the results of her survey of existing tribal codes, Professor Kronk provides three initial thoughts on the development of tribal environmental laws. First, she suggests that, because some tribes may not be ready to enact fully developed environmental laws (due to financial considerations, small land bases, limited natural resources, or other tribal priorities), tribes may want to consider codifying their environmental ethic without implementing a full environmental code. At a minimum, codifying an environmental ethic will provide an important interim statement and emphasize the tribe’s intrinsic connection with the land, water, plants, and animals on tribal land and elsewhere.

Second, tribes may want to craft tribal environmental laws that will apply to non-Indians and non-member Indians who are acting on non-Indian lands within tribal land. Professor Kronk bases this suggestion directly on the Montana rule,[2] which holds that Indian tribes do not have jurisdiction to regulate the activities of non-members who act on non-Indian land within a reservation’s boundary. Notably, however, the Montana rule has two exceptions that will permit the tribe to regulate non-members acting on non-Indian fee land if: (1) the non-member has significant commercial dealings with the tribe or tribal members; or (2) the non-member’s activities threaten the political, economic, or welfare interests of the tribe. Professor Kronk contends that a tribe can obtain jurisdiction over the non-member by enacting tribal environmental laws requiring that permits for the discharge of pollution affecting tribal land be issued only if the non-member agrees to tribal jurisdiction (under the first exception to the Montana rule). Further, she suggests that tribes can invoke the second exception by drafting tribal environmental laws designed to protect the health and welfare interests of the tribal community.

Third, Professor Kronk suggests that tribes may want to consider tribal customs and spirituality when developing tribal environmental laws. In so doing, each tribe’s environmental laws will reflect the environmental ethic of that tribe. Federal environmental laws do not regulate to protect cultural and religious interests, and thus, federal law does not preempt or prevent Indian tribes from exercising their sovereignty and regulating for such purposes. Thus, a tribe could enact an environmental law to protect a cultural or sacred site that is within the boundaries of its reservation.

Finally, Professor Kronk contends that, although many reasons exist for tribes to adopt environmental laws, tribe may want to consider adopting environmental laws for two main reasons. First, tribal environmental laws will promote both tribal sovereignty and tribal environmental ethics. Second, tribal environmental laws are necessary because of current environmental issues and the development of natural resources.

The research of Professor Kronk and others on tribal environmental law seems particularly relevant today as tribes seek to develop natural resources and green energy as well as protect tribal environmental, cultural, and religious interests. A copy of this paper can be downloaded from the Social Science Research Network.

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Endnotes

[1] Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner, Examining Tribal Environmental Law (Sep. 7, 2013) (unpublished working paper), available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2322322.

[2] Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544, 564-66 (1981).

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