Jul 09, 2018

Maine, EPA, American Indian Tribes Entwined in Legal Dispute Over Water Quality

The issue concerns how water quality standards are applied to tribal lands

Maine and Indian tribes entwined in legal battle with EPA over water quality

A three-way legal sparring battle is unfolding in the state of Maine. The state finds itself at odds with the U.S. EPA and local American Indian tribes regarding the application of water quality standards to tribal lands.

The state contends that EPA is being too strict in its water quality standards for the tribal land it encompasses, claiming that the agency is exceeding its authority in heightening clean water limits. The state also claims that the agency’s decision to ramp up such standards is not based on anything scientifically supported.

This disagreement has led to a lawsuit by Maine against the agency, with the crux of the disagreement being the interpretation of rules concerning water quality. The state believes that EPA’s standards are applicable in every location throughout the state, which would include waters found in tribal areas. The other end of the argument sees EPA claiming that its standards should not be blanketed across the entire state, citing the lopsided amount of fish consumed by tribal sustenance fishers in comparison to the general population.

Time Feeley, spokesman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office claims the office believes this is a jurisdictional issue between the federal agency and the state.

Maine’s water quality standards-- the legacy of Senator Edmund S. Muskie and George Mitchell-- are among the very best in the country, and we look forward to the end of this litigation so we can return to working constructively with EPA, our Tribal communities and all our citizens to advance our mutual environmental and public health goals,” Feeley said.

EPA declined to comment, as the lawsuit is ongoing. The implications of the eventual decision will not be confined to tribal lands, and will pose significant consequences for industries that produce paper statewide, according to Jerry Schwartz, senior director of energy and environmental policy for the American Forest & Paper Assn.

“EPA comes along and disapproves of (Maine’s) standards,” Schwartz said. “They result in permit levels that are not achievable and extremely expensive to comply with.”

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