Reservation Rebirth?

by Teresa Austin, Asst. Editor; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 345 East 47th Street, New York City, NY.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1991, Vol. 61, Issue 4, Pg. 78-80

Document Type: Feature article


Slightly under one million American Indians live on reservations—legally sovereign nations that occupy a total land area the size of New England. Unbound by county and state environmental regulations (sometimes lost in fuzzy federal rules), reservations are an environmental no-man's land—and a temptation for the waste disposal industry. Now the tribes, with help from EPA, are taking regulatory charge. Several waste-disposal or waste-creating companies are offering financially needy tribes potentially lucrative deals. These companies hope to build incinerators, landfills and medical waste dumps on what are perceived to be isolated and less-regulated reservations. The tribes are listening. Their economies are weak and unemployment runs high. Ironically, the same sovereign nation status that appeals to waste companies, has often caused reservations to fall through the regulatory cracks. Because of this, reservations often lag behind the rest of the country in basic environmental safeguards. Many must contend with abandoned uranium mines and illegally dumped hazardous waste. Solid waste is often disposed through open dumping or burning. Although reservations are sovereign entities, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) defines Indian tribal governments as municipalities. RCRA gives state hazardous waste management programs authority over municipalities. Yet states have no legal authority over tribal lands.

Subject Headings: Waste disposal | Hazardous wastes | Local government | Municipal wastes | Fuzzy sets | Industrial wastes | Environmental Protection Agency | Financial management | New England | United States

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