ENVIRONMENT: DANIEL INOUYE WARNS THAT THE STATE HAS NO AUTHORITY TO IMPOSE ITS RULES ON RESERVATIONS -- IN THIS CASE, REGULATIONS ON TOXIC DUMPS AND LANDFILLS.
A U.S. senator who is an expert on American Indian affairs told tribal leaders and Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Rancho San Diego) on Tuesday that any attempt by California to dictate environmental regulations for toxic dumps and landfills proposed on Indian reservations is doomed.
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate's Select Committee on Indian Affairs, warned that the imposition of state environmental standards on American Indian lands would violate a 'very fragile (legal) relationship" that holds reservations to be sovereign territories and thus answerable only to federal laws.
"Any attempt made at this juncture to change this delicate balance -- for example, a state to impose its will on Indian country -- I believe would be counterproductive," Inouye said in a speech to Indian representatives. "It would just take up time . . . and, in all likelihood . . . the courts of this land will rule to uphold the current delicate balance."
With his remarks, delivered at a Sacramento conference held by the National Congress of American Indians, Inouye waded into a simmering controversy over a bill by Peace that would require Indian tribes in California to follow state environmental standards for any proposed toxic dumps or landfills built on their sovereign lands.
Underscoring the national implications of the Peace measure, Inouye made a point to pay an unusual call on Peace, meeting privately with the assemblyman for 40 minutes to talk about a bill he said has becomes a "matter of discussion in the Congress of the United States (and) my committee."
"I will try to convince him that the path of cooperation and coordination is the most sensible that I can think of," Inouye told reporters before the meeting.
Inouye's visit comes in the midst of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations between Indian leaders and state officials on how to change the Peace bill to avoid a legal challenge.
Inspired by plans for a 400-acre landfill on the Campo Reservation in rural southeast San Diego County, Peace has insisted on mandatory state oversight of such projects, accusing waste-management firms of using Indian sovereignty as a loophole to get around stringent state environmental standards.
But, on Monday, Peace agreed before the state Senate's Toxic Committee to insert amendments to soften the bill considerably.
The language, worked out in negotiations between Campo representatives and officials from the attorney generals office and the new California Environmental Protection Agency, would give the Indians the option of forming voluntary "cooperative agreements" containing standards that are "functionally equivalent" to state agencies regulating air, water and solid waste.
Although state authorities could review records and point out problems from the potential toxic dumps and landfills, each tribe would have the right to clean up any hazards caused by the facilities. The state could move in only if it believed a tribe failed to respond in time.
Those changes evoked loud protests from environmentalists and San Diego County residents, who have been Peace's most fervent backers until now. "We're unhappy," said Donna Tisdale, who lives next to the Campo reservation.
said he inserted the amendments, which he didn't even read, merely to keep
his bill moving along the legislative track as negotiations continue during
the last month of the legislative session. Even after his meeting with
Inouye, however, Peace said he and Indian leaders are still far apart on
"fundamental, substantive, serious issues."
"We're not close," he said, adding that, despite Monday's amendments, he will insist that waste projects on Indian lands meet state environmental standards.
Peace said it is possible no agreement will be struck by the time the Legislature adjourns Sept. 13, although he told Senate committee members Monday that he is encouraged by the changes so far.
"This is not
an easy thing to do," Peace said. "This is as delicate as any international
negotiations that take place around the world. It's not any different than
trying to negotiate tearing down the Berlin Wall."