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Blue Legs v. EPA

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 20197
Nos. No. 85-5097, 668 F. Supp. 1329/26 ERC 1530/(D.S.D., 09/03/1987)

The court rules that an Indian tribe is a "person" within the meaning of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), RCRA preempts tribal sovereign immunity from citizen suits, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no authority to regulate solid waste on an Indian reservation. The court first reviews the factual stipulations in this case and the purposes and legislative history of RCRA, and then holds that it has jurisdiction to enforce RCRA against the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The Tribe is responsible for maintaining solid waste dumps on its reservation based on its inherent sovereignty. Moreover, the Tribe is regulated by RCRA because it is a "person" under the statute; "person" is defined to include a "municipality," and this is in turn defined to include an Indian tribe. The court next holds that RCRA preempts the Oglala Sioux Tribe's sovereign immunity, noting that Indian tribes possess their inherent sovereignty except where it has been specifically taken by treaty or congressional act. EPA does not have authority to regulate solid waste directly, but does have authority to issue guidelines for states and local governments, and these apply to Indian tribes as if they were municipalities. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service do not have the primary duty to enforce RCRA on the Oglala Sioux Reservation, but must provide technical assistance to the Tribe and are subject to citizen suit for their own open dumping.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Krista Clark, Albert Jones
Dakota Plains Legal Services
P.O. Box 727, Mission SD 57555
(605) 856-4444

Counsel for Defendant
Marvin Amiotte
P.O. Box 1053, Pine Ridge SD 57770
(605) 867-5140

Ted L. McBride, Ass't U.S. Attorney
P.O. Box 2893, Rapid City SD 57701
(605) 342-7822

Carl Strass, Patricia Young
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2682