Synopsis on the Story and Sources on the Campo Indians

    I believe that the Campo landfill controversy is a good case study topic because it raises important questions regarding the economic "rational consumer" model, federalism, and sovereignty issues. Moreover, many of the available sources on the topic complement, rather than simply reiterate, each another.

    The Campo Indians are a Native American tribe in southeastern San Diego County, California who, in 1987, began considering opening a commercial solid waste landfill on their reservation's land. Dan McGovern, The Campo Indian Landfill War 107 (Univ. of Okla. Press 1995). Despite the negative effects inherent in any waste disposal site, many members of the Campo tribe believed that the landfill could raise much-needed revenue for the tribe. Although many members of the tribe initially opposed the landfill, eventually the Campo leaders convinced the skeptics that the facility would improve tribe members' standard of living.
Kevin Gover & Jana L. Walker, Escaping Environmental Paternalism: One Tribe's A-pproach to Develo-ping a Commercial Waste Disposal Project in Indian Country, 63 U. Colo. L. Rev. 933, 937 (1992). During the time of the debate, tribal unemployment rates ran as high as 79 percent; fewer than half of those employed earned over $7,000 per year. McGovern at 105.

    The landfill debate sparked much controversy across the nation. Many believed that allowing tribes to use their lands for non-Indian-generated waste would compromise Indians' long-term interests and would spur businesses to "target" Indian lands for waste disposal. Still, others argued that tribes should be left free to make their own decisions. Gover and Walker believe that most underestimated the tribe's ability to act rationally, lamenting that "Much of the environmental community seems to assume that, if an Indian community decides to accept such a project, it either does not understand the potential consequences or has been bamboozled by an unprincipled waste company." Gover & Walker at 942.

    Despite that the waste site neither threatened nor violated any federal law or regulation, many in the California government opposed the project, especially if the site only conformed to federal law, rather than the more stringent state standards. Steve Pace, a somewhat unorthodox state senator from San Diego, championed the project's opposition movement, arguing that waste sites on Indian land must conform not only federal but also state environmental regulations. McGovern at 120. The tribe, however, believed that it was a sovereign, rational entity that only needed to follow federal--not state--guidelines. Ultimately, California and the Campo tribe compromised. While each side refused to yield its sovereignty arguments, the two sides agreed that the Campo site nevertheless would provide "at least as much protection for the public health as safety and the environment as would the state requirements." Id. at 159.

    For this topic, two of the sources I've listed are particularly outstanding. The McGovern book is almost 300 pages long and describes in great detail the entire controversy over the landfill. Note that I did not include any reproduction of this work (except for the excerpted pages in the Stanford Environmental Law Journal) because the entire book is important. Thus, I have included the call number so that a student may check out the book. Because of the book's importance, I placed it at the top of the bibliography and in bold typeface.

    The article by Gover and Walker is also very informative and interesting. Gover and Walker argue that Indian tribes should be treated as a rational economic entities who act to promote their own best interests. Gover & Walker at 942-43.  If a tribe wants to open a waste facility, Gover and Walker believe nothing should prevent the tribe from doing so. Id.  The authors those who believe that tribes cannot make their own decisions as paternalistic, if not racist. Id.

    Another important point is that the McGovern book prevents a opposing viewpoint of the Gover and Walker article. Whereas Gover and Walker believe that Indian tribes should be left free to use their land to create economic growth, McGovern asserts that the poverty Native Americans endure places them at an automatic disadvantage when dealing with sophisticated corporations. McGovern at 251. He notes that "impoverished tribes most likely to be attracted by landfill proposals are the ones least likely to have the resources themselves to evaluate the financial, legal, and technical aspects of the proposals." Id.

Dan McGovern, Book Excerpt, Excerpts from The Campo Indian Landfill War: The Fight for Gold in California's Garbage, 4 Stan. Envtl. L.J. 375 (1995).