We have substantial experience representing tribes on a broad range of environmental matters, including tribal regulation for environmental protection.
Our representation of tribes has included work under all the major federal environmental statutes. We represent tribal environmental agencies as well as tribal industries and tribal economic development projects dealing with environmental issues. We have helped tribes establish treatment-as-state status and draft and implement environmental ordinances. We have advised and assisted tribes in securing necessary investigation and enforcement action by EPA and related federal agencies where federal action was needed to address third party damage to Indian lands and resources.
We have also effectively used a broad range of federal environmental laws to protect tribal cultural resources and sacred sites both on- and off-reservation from damage and destruction by others. For example, we assisted a tribe in a successful effort to prevent a zinc-copper mine that was proposed for a location near two Indian reservations. This involved a multi-disciplinary approach, with numerous technical experts, to address a variety of proceedings – including a section 404(B) permit from the Corps of Engineers. We approached this problem from the perspective of the potentially devastating impacts that the proposed mining project would have on the cultural and historic interests of the tribes. Despite the large financial interests on the other side, our efforts for the tribe were ultimately successful, as the applications for the proposed mine were withdrawn and the project did not go forward.
The firm has also represented tribes in litigation to recover damages for environmental harm to land and natural resources. For example, we served as lead counsel for a class of Alaska Natives who relied on natural resources to meet subsistence needs in a suit for damages arising from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which resulted in a significant recovery of compensatory and punitive damages for our clients.
The firm is proud of our success in helping tribes address environmental threats to their members, lands and resources.
Examples of Tribal Environmental Work by Statute or Issue
Clean Air Act
We have helped tribes achieve the protective Class I status for their reservations and have worked with tribal environmental departments seeking approval of a Tribal Implementation Plan to implement tribal air programs. The firm successfully represented a tribal client in defending a state’s challenge to the tribe’s stricter air quality standards. Michigan v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 581 F.3d 524 (7th Cir. 2009). The firm has also addressed asbestos contamination issues regarding buildings on tribal lands.
Clean Water Act
The firm has helped tribes achieve treatment-as-state status and has helped to draft and implement water quality standards. We have also represented tribes in obtaining Section 404(B) permits for construction of tribal infrastructure projects that affect wetlands and waterways.
Endangered Species Act
Several firm clients have faced significant challenges because of endangered species. We have assisted these tribes in developing comments and in conducting reviews regarding ongoing Endangered Species Act proceedings.
The firm has worked extensively on issues related to environmental justice and the protection of tribal cultural resources and practices. This has included analyzing issues under the Executive Order on Environmental Justice as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Our attorneys have worked closely with ethnographers, as well as with tribal elders and cultural leaders.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
Our lawyers have represented tribes required to comply with NEPA for tribal projects. We have also represented tribes participating in NEPA reviews as both cooperating agencies and as interested parties.
National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)
Linked to our work on environmental justice, the firm has conducted detailed analyses of cultural and historic properties protected by the NHPA.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
We have helped tribal industries comply with RCRA and have worked with EPA to enforce RCRA's requirements for non-native businesses on tribal land.
Safe Drinking Water Act
The firm has successfully obtained treatment-as-state status for tribes and has worked with tribes seeking the ability to administer and enforce the Underground Injection Control provisions of the Act.
We have obtained treatment-as-state status for tribes to administer the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know provisions of the Superfund law. We have also represented tribes in an effort to assess natural resource damages caused by mining and represented tribes in working with EPA to address remediation requirements for mining projects that affect tribal lands and natural resources.
Tribal Environmental Ordinances
Our attorneys have worked with tribal clients to draft and help implement ordinances dealing with issues including clean air, hazardous waste, land use, pesticide handling, and solid waste.