Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This working oil derrick is a unique feature of the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Photo: duggar11/Flickr cc)

The Oklahoma State Capitol is the only one in the nation containing a working oil rig on its grounds. (Photo: duggar11/Flickr cc

Indigenous Leaders Furious After EPA Grants Oklahoma Control Over Sovereign Tribal Lands

"We must fight back against this underhanded ruling," said one Indigenous leader. "In the courts, on the frontlines and in the international courts, life itself is at stake."

Brett Wilkins

In a little-noticed development last week that drew ire after being reported Monday, the Trump administration's EPA granted the state of Oklahoma wide-ranging environmental regulatory control on nearly all tribal lands in the state, stripping dozens of tribes of their sovereignty over critical environmental issues.

The Young Turks which first reported the news, obtained a copy of an October 1 letter (pdf) from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler granting a request by Republican Gov. J. Kevin Stitt for control of environmental regulations on tribal land on a wide range of issues, including: 

  • Dumping hazardous waste—including formaldehyde; mercury; lead; asbestos; toxic air pollutants; per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); pesticides; the herbicide glyphosate, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—on tribal lands. 
  • Underground Injection Control, the EPA's fracking permitting system. 
  • Protecting major agricultural polluters, including large-scale factory farming operations. 

Wheeler's letter acknowledges McGirt v. Oklahoma, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July that much of eastern Oklahoma is Native American land. The new EPA move essentially means the state of Oklahoma now has the same rights as it did before McGirt. Attorney General William Barr has joined Republican leaders in seeking ways to undermine the landmark ruling.

The fossil fuel and industrial agriculture industries wield tremendous power in Oklahoma. The state Capitol—which was built on stolen Indigenous land—sits atop a large oil field and has a working oil rig on its grounds. The names of oil companies are also inscribed inside the building's dome. 

The EPA policy change—which affects some 38 Native American tribes—sparked anger among Indigenous leaders.

"After over 500 years of oppression, lies, genocide, ecocide, and broken treaties, we should have expected the EPA ruling in favor of racist Gov. Stitt of Oklahoma, yet it still stings," Casey Camp-Horinek, environmental ambassador and elder and hereditary drum keeper for the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, told TYT.

Camp-Horinek continued:

Under the Trump administration, destroying all environmental protection has been ramped up to give the fossil fuel industry life support as it takes its last dying breath. Who suffers the results? Everyone and everything! Who benefits? Trump and his cronies, climate change deniers like Gov. Stitt, Sens. [James] Inhofe and [James] Lankford, who are financially supported by big oil and gas.

I am convinced that we must fight back against this underhanded ruling. In the courts, on the frontlines and in the international courts, life itself is at stake.

The EPA attempted to aussage tribal leaders in a September 29 summary report (pdf) in which the agency vowed to adhere to federal law. However, under President Donald Trump, the agency has reversed, or is in the process of reversing, over 100 environmental rules governing clean air and water, toxic chemicals, and more. 

The summary report notes that the EPA consulted with 13 Indigenous tribes. It also acknowledges that all of the tribes questioned the limited time and geographical scope of the consultations. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Manchin Threatening Key Climate Provision: Reports

"To take it out is to decide that climate change isn't a problem."

Andrea Germanos ·


'Make a Gesture of Humanity': Pope Francis Urges Pharma Giants to Release Covid-19 Vaccine Patents

"There are countries where only three or four percent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated."

Andrea Germanos ·


Manchin Fumes After Sanders Op-Ed in West Virginia Paper Calls Out Obstruction of Biden Agenda

"Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation," wrote Sanders. "Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin."

Andrea Germanos ·


US to Offer 'Condolence Payments' to Relatives of 10 Civilians Killed in Drone Strike

The Pentagon statement follows a call for President Joe Biden to "show real concern for civilians by taking more meaningful steps to prevent civilian casualties as a result of all U.S. lethal operations."

Andrea Germanos ·


New Filing Reveals Sinema Pads Campaign Coffers With More Pharma and Finance Funds

"This is what someone who's bought and paid for looks like."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo