Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


When Congress set aside reservations as permanent homelands for American Indian people, it intended that the reservations remain “livable environments.” When resource conflicts arise in “checkerboard” areas outside Indian reservations—where land ownership alternates between a tribe, state, the federal government and private, non-Indian landowners—disputes over regulatory jurisdiction and environmental protection intensify. Two recent Tenth Circuit opinions determining the next generation of uranium mining in the checkerboard area of the Navajo Nation, depart from the intent of environmental laws and fail to uphold federal agencies’ trust responsibilities to the Tribe. These cases illustrate the legal vulnerabilities tribal communities in checkerboard areas face through the loss of their environmental and public health and the potentially massive cost of remediation. This comment urges the federal government to strike a more equitable balance of authority, risk and cost by retaining environmental regulatory jurisdiction in checkerboard areas and by writing Indian Trust Impact Statements that will help ensure that the federal government fulfills its trust responsibility to tribes.

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