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6th National Tribal Conference on Environmental Management, Reno, Nevada

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman
Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
at the
6th National Tribal Conference on Environmental Management
Reno, Nevada

June 5, 2002
Chairman (Alan) Mandell, Mr. (Alan) Biaggi, Tribal leaders, and conference guests:

Thank you very much for your warm welcome. It is wonderful to see so many of you here for EPA’s sixth National Tribal Conference on Environmental Management. I would like to extend a special thank you and congratulations to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe for hosting this meeting. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Pyramid Lake last year and it’s wonderful to be with you again.

Over the course of this conference, I understand you will be discussing an important array of topics. I am eager to hear your views on how best to manage EPA’s tribal programs so that we can continue to make real progress in protecting the environment and public health in Indian Country. It is important that we understand the unique and diverse circumstances of America’s tribal populations and how we can bring these perspectives to bear on the challenges we face.

And we are facing a number of important challenges to our natural environment. We have all been entrusted with the stewardship of this shared planet, and it is our responsibility to leave it cleaner for our children and grandchildren. And that is why we are here today. To work together in partnership to develop solutions that work, and that are respectful of Tribal values and traditions.

When I speak of responsible stewardship, I believe it’s about leaving the air cleaner, the water purer and the land better protected.

For Tribes, cleaner air means ensuring compliance with federal, state, and tribal standards. Eighty-three tribes are located in non-attainment areas for one or more air pollutants, and suffer the consequences of this pollution.

For Tribes, clean water often means providing basic sanitation that most of America takes for granted. In some instances, EPA resources provide indoor plumbing for the first time. Cleaner water also means protecting and restoring the rivers, lakes, and streams that flow through tribal lands – waters that are essential for subsistence living.

And for Tribes, better protected land means that homelands are places where modern life thrives as do ancient traditions and ceremonies. Today, there are 1,100 open dumps in Indian country and only about 1 out of 10 Tribes have developed solid waste management programs, to date.

As these examples indicate, I do not have to tell you how much work there is to be done. The evidence is all too apparent that EPA needs to do more. But the good news is that we are making progress.

For example, at the end of my remarks today, I will present a research grant award to the Swinomish tribe. This award of $1.2 million is the largest ever of this nature and will be used to consider the toxic risks of the consumption of shellfish. After lunch, I look forward to my visit to the Washoe Tribe’s Stewart Ranch Restoration Project. I’m sure this tour will demonstrate that when we work together, remarkable things are possible.

These are but two examples of our success. I’d like to take a moment to share a few other highlights of the past year and half with you.

Recently, I appointed Carol Jorgensen as the Director of our American Indian Environmental Office. Carol is a member of the Tlingit Tribe, and I am delighted that she has joined us at EPA. I very much look forward to working with her now and in the future. If you haven’t already met Carol, please introduce yourself over the next several days.

On the budget front, despite possible cutbacks in funding for many federal agencies, we were able to protect EPA’s resources designated for tribal programs in our FY 2003 President’s budget request. Included in this request was an additional $5 million for our General Assistance Program to help build tribal capacity to manage environmental programs.

You may recall that last year I was proud to reaffirm EPA’s Indian Policy. This policy recognizes what we already knew to be true – that tribal governments are the most appropriate parties for managing the environment on Indian lands. I am pleased that the courts have upheld our ability to work with you on a sovereign-to-sovereign basis. The federal courts have agreed with EPA in the TAR (Tribal Air Rule) litigation that Congress did, in fact, delegate to eligible Indian Tribes the authority to regulate air emissions in all lands within reservations. This was an important victory - congratulations to everyone.

In November of last year, I also met with Tribal Representatives including Chairman Wallace to discuss how to address the challenges to tribal consultation. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop ways to make sure that appropriate consultation and dialogue occur when EPA actions have a substantial impact upon tribes. This effort directly supports our policy of consulting with Tribes on a government-to-government basis.

Finally, I know that water quality standards have been a topic of discussion over the past several months. EPA is beginning to work on developing an interim plan for helping achieve water quality protections in Indian country, a plan which would include working with individual Tribes or groups of Tribes to find ways to achieve mutual goals. At the same time, we will press forward with our evaluations of longer-term solutions and keep Tribes informed as we proceed. No final rulemaking will be taken without consulting with you.

As you continue with your discussions over the next few days, I encourage the free and open exchange of ideas. You have a challenging agenda with many interesting sessions – and I hope you will join EPA in the Tribal Priorities and EPA’s Strategic Plan session on Friday morning. We are eager to hear your concerns and suggestions as we solicit input into our Strategic Plan revision to refine our priorities over the next 5 to 10 years.

Again, I want to say thank you all for being here, and I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure clean air, pure water, and better protected lands.

Now, I’d like to invite Mr. (Brian) Cladoosby and Mr. (Charles) O’Hara of the Swinomish Tribe along with Carol Jorgensen to come forward for the presentation of the grant award.