Bill aims to remove tribes from environmental policies
4/3/2012 8:32:40 AM
BY TODD CROW
Reporter

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – State Sen. Greg Treat has authored a bill calling for the exclusion of federally recognized tribes from the state’s environmental policymaking process. 

As of March 27, the bill had passed through the Senate and was in the House of Representatives.

As an amendment to existing legislature, the primary change included in Senate Bill 1050 is the word “tribal” being removed. For example, “An electric utility subject to rate regulation by the Corporation Commission may file an application seeking Commission authorization of a plan by the utility to make capital expenditures for equipment or facilities necessary to comply with…federal, state, local or tribal environmental requirements which apply to generation facilities.”

Treat told The Oklahoman the bill would do “nothing to prohibit the tribes from having input in environmental policies.”

“The law still allows consultation,” Treat said, “it just does not allow tribal laws to be considered by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to increase cost on ratepayers, or tribes to block the construction or upgrades to a refinery.”

Treat also said the Environmental Protection Agency has a “liberal agenda,” and is using the tribes “as a vehicle” to expand its power.

“My message to tribal members and all Oklahomans is that his bill is about common sense and stopping the overreach and burden of the federal government,” Treat said. “I believe any form of government – whether it be tribal, local, state or federal – has a tendency to want to increase its power and control over citizens.”

Sara Hill, Cherokee Nation senior assistant attorney general, said the law could be harmful for the relationship between the tribes and state.

“By passing this law, Oklahoma risks damaging the cooperative relationship it has built with the tribes – a relationship that has produced a significant economic benefit for the state,” Hill said. 

She added that given the state’s acknowledgment of the unique relationship between the tribes and the United States, along with the benefit Oklahoma has received from that relationship, SB 1050 seems “out of step with state and federal policy regarding Indian tribes.”

Hill said that “unique relationship” is defined in a state law that authorizes cooperative agreements and compacts. 

According to the law, the state “ recognizes the unique status of Indian Tribes within the federal government and shall work in a spirit of cooperation with all federally recognized Indian Tribes in furtherance of federal policy for the benefit of both the State of Oklahoma and Tribal Governments.”

Hill said she’s confident that even if the law is passed, few things would change and that tribes would continue to have the right to be part of any policymaking progress.

“The changes to the law that are being proposed won’t change the applicability of tribal law to environmental matters and cannot alter the relationship between the United States and any federally recognized Indian tribe,” she said. “The relationship between the tribes and the United States cannot be thwarted by legislative action in a state legislature.”

todd-crow@cherokee.org

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