Indian Tribes: EPA Should Reduce the Review Time for Tribal Requests to Manage Environmental Programs

GAO-06-95 Published: Oct 31, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2005.
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The Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, and Clean Air Acts authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to treat eligible Indian tribes in the same manner as a state (referred to as TAS) for implementing and managing environmental programs on Indian lands. Some states are concerned that tribes receiving authority to manage these programs may set standards that exceed the state standards and hinder states' economic development. GAO was asked to report on the (1) extent to which EPA has followed its processes for reviewing and approving tribal applications for TAS and program authorization under the three acts, (2) programs EPA uses to fund tribal environmental activities and the amount of funds provided to tribes between fiscal years 2002 and 2004, and (3) types of disagreements between parties over EPA's approval of TAS status and program authorization and methods used to address these disagreements.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency To better facilitate the timely review of tribal requests for TAS status for program authorization and to increase the transparency of the process to tribes, the Administrator of EPA should develop a written strategy, including estimated time frames, for its tribal request review process and for providing periodic updates to the tribes on the status of their requests.
Closed – Implemented
The EPA Deputy Administrator issued the "Strategy for Reviewing Tribal Eligibility Applications to Administer EPA Regulatory Programs" on January 23, 2008. In implementing the strategy, EPA has completely cleared the backlog of TAS applications for Water Quality Standards that were awaiting EPA action, reduced the maximum TAS processing time by 50%, and reduced the average time by 17%.

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