Environmental Justice at Interior
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The Department of the Interior plays a unique role as the steward of public lands and waters, as well as overseeing the Bureau of Indian Education and the Buruea of Indian Affairs. In this capacity, the Department has significant discretion in how it manages those lands and whether it prioritizes extraction, recreation, or conservation and restoration.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, and has repeatedly committed the Department to addressing environmental disparities. To-date, that commitment has included prioritizing consultation with Tribes and rescinding Trump-era Orders that fast-tracked energy-related permitting. Interior is also in the process of conducting a nationwide review of the federal oil and gas program pursuant to Executive Order 14008 with the goal of increasing renewable energy production on public lands. Interior’s policies and permitting decisions will play a significnat role in determining if and how environmental justice communities, particularly Tribes, will benefit from that new development.
For tips on writing public comments and scheduling EO 12866 meetings with OIRA, visit our Public Participation Resources Page.
- September 14: The DOI invites tribal feedback on three topics: the land-into-trust process; leasing and rights of way; and sacred sites and treaty rights through a series of virtual consultations beginning on October 18. Visit this page to learn more about DOI’s tribal consultation, see upcoming consultations, and find past consultations.
- July 15 Interior announces consultations with Tribal and Native Hawaiian community leaders as part of an effort to update the agency’s regulations under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). See the draft proposed text and current regulations here. The agency plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in Oct. 2021.
- October 13: DOI announces new appointments including Joaquin Gallegos as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs and Wizipan Little Elk as Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Michael Martinez and Matthew Strickler are appointed as deputy assistant secretaries for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
- September 29: The Senate confirms Robert Anderson as Interior Department Solicitor in a 53-44 vote. Anderson is an expert in federal Indian and public lands law and is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
- August 18: President Biden nominates Charles “Chuck” Sams III to lead the National Park Service. If confirmed, Sams would be the first Native American to lead the NPS. Sams is a former administrator of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.
- July 22: The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources approves Robert Anderson in a 10-9 vote as Principal Deputy Solicitor. The revote corrects a procedural mistake from a previous markup. Anderson is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and an expert in natural resources and Federal Indian law.
- July 9: Kathryn Isom-Clause (Taos Pueblo) joins DOI as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
- April 22: President Biden nominates Bryan Newland as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Newland is a citizen and former Tribal President of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe). He previously also served as Chief Judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court.
- March 15: The Senate votes 51-40 to confirm Democratic congresswoman Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, as Secretary of the Interior. Haaland’s confirmation makes her the first Native cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
Rules and Orders
- April 27: Secretary Haaland issues Order 3400, which hich re-delegates the authority to review and approve land-into-trust applications to the BIA’s regional directors. In 2017, the Trump BLM required these decisions to be made by DOI’s headquarters staff. Also on April 27, Principal Deputy Solicitor Robert Anderson withdraws several Trump-era legal opinions, reaffirming Interior’s legal authority to take land into trust in Alaska, and removing unduly burdensome process requirements for Tribes seeking to place land into trust.
- July 7: Secretary Haaland initiates a new departmental law enforcement task force to review the Department’s policing operations. U.S. Park Police have been repeatedly scrutinized for excessive use of force and lack of transparency regarding internal investigations, including the killing of Bijan Ghaisar in Virginia in 2017 and beating of two Australian journalists during peaceful demonstrations outside the White House in 2020.
- April 22: Secretary Haaland announces a new 27-member Joint Commission led by DOI and DOJ to reduce violent crime against American Indians and Alaska Natives as part of DOI’s efforts to implement the Not Invisible Act.
- April 1: Secretary Haaland announces a new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) in BIA’s Office of Justice Services to direct work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Restoring Tribal Lands and Water Rights
- October 8: President Biden signs three executive orders to restore the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. For more information, visit EELP’s Regulatory Tracker page on national monuments.
- September 17: Secretary Haaland signs a tribal water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana appropriating $1.9 billion in funds to rehabilitate the Federal Flathead Indian Irrigation Project and construct new community water infrastructure, making it the largest tribal water rights settlement in history by total cost.
- June 23: Interior transfers 18,800 acres comprising the National Bison Range (NBR) from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to be held in trust for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The law approving the transfer allows two years to transition management from the Service to the Tribes.
- June 15: DOI transfers 80 acres of federal property in Ewa Beach, Hawaii to Native Hawaiians. The lands help to fulfill terms of settlement authorized by Congress in 1995 to compensate Native Hawaiians for 1,500 acres set aside for homesteading but later acquired by the federal government.
- June 24 Interior announces $529.3 million in Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding for more than 1,900 local governments. PILT funds are issued annually for tax-exempt federal lands, which can’t be taxed by local governments. See the full list of qualifying states and counties here.
- May 10: Interior announces $150 million for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) competitive grant program to create new outdoor recreation spaces and parks in economically underserved urban communities. States can apply on behalf of eligible communities before Sep. 24 through Grants.gov. State sponsors much match the grant award 1:1. Interested communities should contact their state lead agency for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) listed here.