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The Evolving Path Toward Achieving Environmental Justice for Native America

September 2010

Citation: ELR 10905

Author: James M. Grijalva and Daniel E. Gogal

Editors' Summary

A lack of fully functioning regulatory programs has long been the primary obstacle to achieving environmental justice in Native America. EPA recognized that challenge some two decades before the environmental justice movement took hold, and has since built an Indian program based on initial federal implementation where feasible, with aspirations for later program assumption by Indian tribal governments. Much work on the latter goal remains, but for tribes that have assumed program roles, a new environmental justice issue has arisen: ensuring the parties affected--tribal citizens, tribal grassroots environmental organizations and others within the jurisdiction of tribal programs--receive fair treatment and have meaningful opportunities for influencing tribes' environmental decisionmaking processes. Collaborative approaches for resolving tensions that arise at times between tribal government decisionmaking and community desires for greater environmental protection may be the best means for preserving both the environment and the legitimacy--political and cultural--of tribal governments.

James M. Grijalva is Swenson Professor of Law and Director, Tribal Environmental Law Project, University of North Dakota. Daniel E. Gogal is Tribal Coordinator, Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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