Jump to main content.


Tribal Compliance Assistance Center

Pollution Prevention and Green Purchasing | Regulatory Requirements


Federal Implementation of Environmental Laws
Tribal Assumption of Federal Environmental Laws
Pollution Prevention Act
Related Requirements
  Clean Air Act
  Clean Water Act
  Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
  Toxic Substances Control Act

Direct Federal Implementation of Environmental Laws in Indian Country - EPA's Role as Regulator

Environmental program responsibility requires capability and significant resources, among other things. Tribal governments do not always find it practical to assume full responsibility for EPA programs. Based upon a variety of factors, often including program costs, assistance and maintenance costs, and availability of technical expertise, tribal governments may focus on certain high-priority activities, but may decide not to assume an entire regulatory program. When tribes decide not to undertake certain activities under EPA's programs or not to apply for entire programs, EPA will seek to directly implement the environmental programs, as appropriate. EPA may also directly implement certain environmental management programs where federal statutes preclude tribal eligibility.

Top of Page


Tribal Assumption of Federal Environmental Laws

In the EPA Indian Policy, EPA announced its support for Tribal Assumption of Federal Environmental Laws under federal statutes, stating, among other things, that "[t]he Agency will recognize tribal governments as the primary parties for setting standards, making environmental policy decisions, and managing programs for reservations, consistent with Agency standards and regulations."

Three environmental statutes - the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), and the Clean Air Act (CAA) - explicitly authorize EPA to "treat tribes in the same manner as states" (TAS) for purposes of implementing various environmental programs. In addition, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) explicitly include a provision that affords tribes substantially the same treatment as states with respect to certain provisions of the Act, while the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) also provides a role for tribes. Although the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) do not explicitly provide for TAS, EPA has taken the position that it has the discretion to approve tribes to implement certain programs in the same manner as states in order to fill gaps in how the statutes are implemented in Indian country.

For tribes to assume many of EPA's regulatory programs, they generally must go through the TAS process and meet the following criteria:




In general, once a tribe has been deemed eligible for one EPA program, it need only establish that it has jurisdiction and capability for each subsequent program. If a tribe does not have capability, it must have a plan for acquiring capability over time. A capability showing is required because each program may require different skills and activities to provide protection that meets the requirements of specific statutes and regulations.

Perhaps the most important of the tribe-specific eligibility criteria is whether the functions to be exercised by a tribe are within the applicant tribe's jurisdiction. EPA asks tribes that are applying for regulatory programs to demonstrate in their applications that they have adequate jurisdiction over the areas to be regulated. Under principles of federal Indian law, tribes generally have inherent sovereign authority to regulate both their members and land held in trust (although specific statutes may have affected this general principal for some tribes). Depending on the scope of the application, EPA may also need to evaluate whether a particular tribe has jurisdiction over nonmember activities on nonmember-owned fee lands within the boundaries of an Indian reservation. Jurisdiction over nonmember activities on fee lands may come from two potential sources: a tribe may have inherent authority over these activities; or Congress may, by statute, delegate federal authority to a tribe. Tribal applications for authorization to administer the program are sent to EPA's Regional Administrators.

EPA has made a number of "treatment in the same manner as a State" determinations for tribes, most of which involved findings that tribes are eligible for grants under the CWA. EPA has approved twenty-seven tribes to set water quality standards under section 303 of the CWA. One tribe has received primacy under the SDWA. Five tribes have received program approval under the CAA. Approximately 30 tribes operate pesticide certification or enforcement programs authorized by FIFRA under cooperative agreements with EPA.

Top of Page


Pollution Prevention Act

The Pollution Prevention Act (PDF) (10 pp, 39K, About PDF) is designed to "reduce or prevent pollution at the source through cost-effective changes in production, operation, and raw materials use." The Act directed EPA to establish a source reduction program, which collects and disseminates information, and provides financial assistance to states, and implements the other activities provided for under the Act. The Act takes a multi-media approach, that is, its source reduction practices seek to eliminate pollutants in all media - water, air and land. EPA's Pollution Prevention Web site provides additional on current pollution prevention mandates.

Top of Page


Related Requirements

The Clean Air Act

The CAA is designed to "protect and enhance the nation's air resources so as to protect the public health and welfare and the productive capacity of the population." The CAA directs EPA to establish national standards for ambient air quality and for EPA, tribes, and states to implement, maintain, and enforce these standards through a variety of mechanisms; tribes are expressly eligible for TAS. CAA regulations appear at 40 CFR Parts 50-99. EPA's Tribal Air Web site provides information about CAA issues affecting tribes. The Clean Air Act Tribal Authority Rule establishes eligibility requirements for TAS, EPA's Tribal Air Program Resources Web site provides information.


Training and Technical Information


For training, technical information, and resources related to the CAA.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards

EPA establishes national ambient air quality standards (NAAQSs) to limit levels of "criteria pollutants:" carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, and sulfur dioxide. Geographic areas that meet NAAQSs for a given pollutant are designated as attainment areas; those that do not meet NAAQSs for a given pollutant are designated as non-attainment areas. Under Section 301 of the CAA, tribes may, but are not required to, apply to develop a Tribal Implementation Plan (TIP) to identify sources of air pollution and to determine what reductions are necessary to meet federal air quality standards. Revised NAAQS for particulates and ozone became effective in 2004.


New Source Performance Standards

EPA establishes New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which are nationally uniform emission standards for new and modified stationary sources falling within particular industrial categories. NSPSs are based on the pollution control technology available to that category of industrial source (40 CFR Part 60).


National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants

EPA establishes National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPs) to control particular hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). Section 112(c) of the CAA directs EPA to develop a list of sources that emit any of 188 HAPs and to develop regulations for these categories of sources. To date, EPA has listed 185 source categories and developed a schedule for establishing emission standards. The emission standards are developed for both new and existing sources based on "maximum achievable control technology" (MACT). MACT is defined as the control technology that achieves the maximum degree of reduction in the emission of HAPs, taking into account cost and other factors.


Mobile Sources

Title II of the CAA pertains to mobile sources, such as cars, trucks, buses, and planes, as well as small engines, like lawn mowers, and large stationary engines used in industry and pipelines. EPA uses technology forcing emissions requirements, reformulated gasoline, automobile pollution control devices, and vapor recovery nozzles on gas pumps, among other mechanisms, to regulate mobile air emission sources. While almost all mobile source regulation is reserved exclusively for EPA, eligible and approved TAS tribes may participate in enforcing mobile source enforcement through vehicle inspection and maintenance programs; states are required to participate in such programs.


Sulfur Dioxide/Nitrogen Oxide Emissions

Title IV of the CAA establishes a sulfur dioxide/nitrogen oxide emissions program designed to reduce the formation of acid rain. Sulfur dioxide releases can be reduced under a "cap and trade" program by granting to certain sources limited emissions allowances, which are below previous levels of sulfur dioxide releases. Commercial electric generators (natural gas, oil or coal fired) are the primary subjects of this title. Tribal governments that own and operate municipal waste combustors, sewage sludge incinerators, or large boilers/generators may be subject to these requirements. Tribal governments with these types of sources may choose to seek to obtain federal regulatory authority over this program.


Major Source Permit Program

Title V of the CAA requires that all "major sources" (and certain minor sources) of air pollution obtain an operating permit, and such sources may be required to submit information about emissions, control devices, and the general process at the facility in the permit application. Permits may limit pollutant emissions and impose monitoring, record keeping, and reporting requirements. One purpose of the operating permit is to include in a single document all air emissions requirements that apply to a given facility. Tribal governments may apply for eligibility to issue and monitor Title V permits.


Stratospheric Ozone Protection

Title VI of the CAA is intended to protect stratospheric ozone by phasing out the manufacture of ozone-depleting chemicals and restricting their use and distribution. The production of "Class I" substances, including 15 kinds of chlorofluorocarbons and chloroform, was phased out (except for essential uses) in 1996. EPA's Stratospheric Ozone Information Hotline, at (800) 296-1996, or the Ozone Depletion Web site, provides general information about regulations promulgated under Title VI of the CAA.


Risk Management Planning Section 112(r) of the CAA

Mandates a federal focus on the prevention of serious chemical accidents that could affect public health and the environment. Under these requirements, facilities must identify and assess their chemical hazards and carry out certain activities designed to reduce the likelihood and severity of accidental chemical releases. Information summarizing these activities is available to tribes, the public, and all other stakeholders. Using this information, tribes and tribe members can work with industry to reduce risks to the community from chemical accidents.

In the broadest sense, risk management planning relates to tribal emergency preparedness and response, to pollution prevention at facilities, and to worker safety. In a more focused sense, it forms one element of an integrated approach to safety and complements existing industry codes and standards. The risk management planning requirements build on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Process Safety Management Standard.


CAA Implementation in Indian Country

EPA is authorized to directly implement the CAA in Indian country. However, over 100 tribes are now pursuing the development of air quality management programs, and many more have expressed an interest. Many tribes are monitoring their air for a variety of pollutants, from ozone and particulate matter, to mercury and acid rain, as well as developing emission inventories to understand the sources of air pollution on the reservations. Some tribes have been approved to implement CAA provisions and are developing TIPs to address violations of air quality standards; such tribes expect to apply for approval to run ongoing programs in the near future. Other tribes are developing operating permit programs for both major and minor sources of air pollution

Many are actively participating in partnerships with EPA and state regulators to address air quality problems that cross jurisdiction boundaries. An example of these partnerships is air toxics risk assessments being done cooperatively in the Phoenix area by three tribes and the State of Arizona. In addition, as many as 70 tribes are active partners in regional haze planning organizations, and around 100 tribes participate in the Western Regional Air Partnership.

Top of Page


Clean Water Act

The primary objective of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's surface waters. Pollutants regulated under the CWA are classified as either "toxic" pollutants "conventional" pollutants, such as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS), fecal coliform, oil and grease, and pH; or "nonconventional" pollutants, including any pollutant not identified as either conventional or priority. The CWA is implemented via several regulatory programs, some of which are described here.


National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program

The CWA regulates both direct and indirect discharges. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program (CWA Section 402) controls direct discharges into navigable waters. Direct discharges come from "point sources" which are defined as any "discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fixture, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, landfill leachate collection system, vessel, or other floating craft from which pollutants are or may be discharged." These include discharges of industrial and municipal wastewater, as well as stormwater conveyed through a municipal separate stormwater system (MS4). EPA's NPDES Web site provides technical and regulatory information about the NPDES permit program, which controls water pollution by regulating point sources (e.g., pipe, ditch) that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States.

NPDES permits, issued by either EPA or an authorized tribe (or an authorized state or U.S. territory) contain industry-specific, technology-based and water quality-based limits, and establish pollutant monitoring, record keeping and reporting requirements; to date, EPA has not authorized any tribes to administer the NPDES program. A facility that proposes to discharge into the nation's waters must obtain a permit prior to initiating a discharge. The permit will set the conditions and effluent limitations under which the facility may discharge.

A NPDES permit may include discharge limits based on tribal water quality standards that are established under the CWA, and which are designed to protect designated uses of surface waters, such as supporting aquatic life or recreation. These standards, unlike the permit technology-based standards, generally do not take into account technological feasibility or costs. Water quality standards may vary from site to site, depending on the use classification of the receiving water body. When establishing water quality standards and associated water quality criteria, tribes may elect to follow EPA guidelines, which propose aquatic life and human health criteria for many of the 126 priority pollutants.


Combined Sewer Systems Permit Provisions

NPDES permits for municipalities with combined sewer overflow (CSO) must conform to EPA's CSO Control Policy. The permitting provisions include minimum technology-based controls that can reduce the prevalence and impacts of CSOs and that are not expected to require significant engineering studies or major construction. Communities with combined sewer systems are also expected to develop long-term CSO control plans that will ultimately provide for full compliance with the CWA, including attainment of water quality standards. EPA's CSO Web site provides technical and regulatory information about CSOs.


Stormwater Discharges

EPA's Stormwater Program is part of the NPDES program and is designed to regulate the discharge of contaminated stormwater (and contaminated discharges from storm sewers that are only supposed to discharge stormwater) into navigable waters.

EPA implemented the stormwater program in two phases. Phase I of the stormwater program applies to medium (serving a population from 100,000 to 250,000) and large (serving a population greater than 250,000) municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4), certain industrial facilities, and any construction activity disturbing at least 5 acres (large construction sites). Covered MS4, industrial facilities, or construction activity must apply for and obtain an NPDES stormwater permit. Phase I began in 1990.

Phase II of the stormwater program applies to small (serving populations under 100,000) MS4s and construction activity disturbing at least 1 acre and less than 5 acres (small construction sites). Covered MS4 and construction activity should obtain a stormwater NPDES permit for construction. This may be accomplished by submitting a Notice of Intent to EPA to be covered under a national general stormwater permit. Phase II began in 1999.

The term MS4 does not solely refer to municipally owned storm sewer systems, but rather is a term with a much broader application that can include departments of transportation, colleges and universities, sewer districts, hospitals, military bases, and prisons. An MS4 also is not always just a system of underground pipes - it can include roads with drainage systems, gutters, and ditches. The regulatory definition of an MS4 is provided in 40 CFR 122.26(b)(8). EPA's Stormwater Program site provides general stormwater information and the Stormwater Phase II Compliance Assistance Guide (PDF) (97 pp, 1.4MB, About PDF) also provides information.


Pretreatment Program

The CWA also requires EPA to promulgate regulations that restrict discharge of wastewater indirectly through sewers to publicly-owned treatment works (POTWs). POTWs receive wastewater from homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities and transport it via a series of pipes, known as a collection system, to treatment facilities. Industrial users of POTWs must comply with CWA pretreatment standards before introducing pollutants into a POTW. These pretreatment standards must control pollutants that may pass through or interfere with POTW treatment processes or contaminate sewage sludge. EPA has developed national categorical Pretreatment Standards that apply numeric pollutant limits to industrial users in specific industrial categories. EPA has also developed general pretreatment requirements. The General Pretreatment Regulations require POTWs that meet certain criteria to develop pretreatment programs to control industrial discharges into their sewage collection systems. Additionally, the General Pretreatment Regulations include general prohibitions that forbid industrial users from causing pass through and interference, and specific prohibitions against the discharge of pollutants that cause problems at the POTW such as corrosion, fire or explosion, and danger to worker health and safety.

Different technology-based categorical pretreatment standards apply to existing and new industrial categories. In addition, POTWs may need to develop "local limits," to assist the POTW in achieving the effluent limitations in its NPDES permit or where necessary in order to prevent pass through or interference. Local limits may be more stringent than federal standards.


Sludge (Biosolid) Management

Section 405 of the CWA regulates the land application and land disposal of sludge - the solid, semisolid or liquid untreated residue generated during the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility. 40 CFR 503 contains provisions for sludge quality, application rates, and environmental conditions under which land application is permitted. The regulations also specify sludge management methods and monitoring and record keeping requirements for both disposal and land application facilities. Sewage sludge can be disposed of in landfills, lagoons, incinerated, or applied to the land to serve as a soil enhancer or fertilizer. Land application of sewage sludge is often done on parks, golf courses, abandoned mines, and during construction site restoration. It can also be applied to crops, including crops for human consumption. EPA's Biosolid Web site provides sludge and biosolid information.


Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plans

CWA section 311contains broad federal authority to prevent, respond and cleanup an oil spill or threat of an oil spill. This provision, as implemented through regulations at 40 CFR 112, requires facilities that could reasonably be expected to discharge oil in harmful quantities to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines to prepare and implement Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans. For additional information about SPCC Plans or online at EPA's SPCC page of the Oil Program Web site.


The Water Quality Standards Program and Tribal Program Approval

Section 518(e) of the CWA require EPA to issue regulations to specify how the Agency would treat tribes in a manner similar to states for certain CWA programs, including the water quality standards program. Section 518(e) also requires EPA to establish a mechanism for resolving any unreasonable consequence that results when a tribe and a state adopt different water quality standards for common bodies of water. 40 CFR 131 contains the requirements and procedures for EPA to promulgate water quality standards for tribes and for EPA to approve or disapprove tribal applications.

If a tribe chooses to apply for treatment as a state for the water quality standards program and receives EPA approval, all of the procedures and requirements that apply to states for the development, review, and adoption of water quality standards apply to a tribe with authorization to administer the program. Tribes have three years from the time they receive approval to administer the water quality standards program to submit their water quality standards to EPA for approval.


Water Quality Standards - Dispute Resolution Mechanism

Section 518(e) of the CWA required EPA to issue regulations that establish procedures for resolving disputes between states and tribes that arise as a result of differing water quality standards on common bodies of water. Since some Indian reservations fall within the boundaries of one or more states, so it is possible that there will be conflicting water quality standards for a common body of water because there are two or more responsible governing bodies. This situation also occasionally occurs between two states sharing a common body of water. 40 CFR Section 131 states that the EPA Regional Administrator is responsible for acting in accordance with this section of the Regulation.

Top of Page


Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) addresses the sale, distribution, and labeling of pesticides, as well as the certification and training of pesticide applicators. FIFRA also establishes record keeping and reporting requirements on certified applicators of restricted use pesticides, as well as imposing storage, disposal, and transportation requirements on registrants, and applicants for registration, of pesticides.

The primary purpose of FIFRA is to regulate the labeling, and the subsequent use, of pesticides. Pesticide use is regulated through requirements to apply pesticides in a manner consistent with the label. The labeling requirements include directions for use, warnings, and cautions, along with the uses for which the pesticide is registered (i.e., pests and appropriate applications). Labeling requirements also include specific conditions for the application, mixture, storage, and time period for re-entry to fields following pesticide application, and when crops may be harvested after applications. If a pesticide is used in a manner contrary to its labeling, that use constitutes a violation of FIFRA.


FIFRA and Tribes

EPA generally is the primary enforcement authority for pesticide use violations in Indian country. Tribes may seek to restrict the sale or use of a federally registered pesticide, but may not allow the sale or use of a federally prohibited product. EPA works cooperatively with tribal government to enforce FIFRA, as it does with states and territories. For example, under FIFRA Section 23, EPA may enter into cooperative agreements with tribes. These agreements may include provisions for tribes to assist EPA in ensuring compliance with FIFRA by obtaining federal inspector credentials, conducting inspections, and recommending enforcement actions to EPA. As a separate matter, EPA also provides funding to tribes to assist in the development and implementation of pesticide programs under tribal law.

Top of Page


Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) addresses the sale, distribution, and labeling of pesticides, as well as the certification and training of pesticide applicators. FIFRA also establishes record keeping and reporting requirements on certified applicators of restricted use pesticides, as well as imposing storage, disposal, and transportation requirements on registrants, and applicants for registration, of pesticides.

The primary purpose of FIFRA is to regulate the labeling, and the subsequent use, of pesticides. Pesticide use is regulated through requirements to apply pesticides in a manner consistent with the label. The labeling requirements include directions for use, warnings, and cautions, along with the uses for which the pesticide is registered (i.e., pests and appropriate applications). Labeling requirements also include specific conditions for the application, mixture, storage, and time period for re-entry to fields following pesticide application, and when crops may be harvested after applications. If a pesticide is used in a manner contrary to its labeling, that use constitutes a violation of FIFRA.


FIFRA and Tribes

EPA generally is the primary enforcement authority for pesticide use violations in Indian country. Tribes may seek to restrict the sale or use of a federally registered pesticide, but may not allow the sale or use of a federally prohibited product. EPA works cooperatively with tribal government to enforce FIFRA, as it does with states and territories. For example, under FIFRA Section 23, EPA may enter into cooperative agreements with tribes. These agreements may include provisions for tribes to assist EPA in ensuring compliance with FIFRA by obtaining federal inspector credentials, conducting inspections, and recommending enforcement actions to EPA. As a separate matter, EPA also provides funding to tribes to assist in the development and implementation of pesticide programs under tribal law.

Top of Page


Toxic Substances Control Act

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) granted EPA authority to create a regulatory framework to collect data on chemicals to evaluate, assess, mitigate, and control risks that may be posed by their manufacture, processing, and use. TSCA provides a variety of control methods to prevent chemicals from posing unreasonable risk.

TSCA standards may apply at any point during a chemical's life cycle. Under TSCA Section 5, EPA has established an inventory of chemical substances. If a chemical is not already on the inventory and has not been excluded by TSCA, a premanufacture notice (PMN) must be submitted to EPA prior to manufacture or import. The PMN must identify the chemical and provide available information on health and environmental effects. If available data are not sufficient to evaluate the chemical's effects, EPA can impose restrictions pending the development of information on its health and environmental effects. EPA can also restrict significant new uses of chemicals based upon various factors, such as the projected volume and use of the chemical.

Under TSCA Section 6, EPA can ban the manufacture or distribution in commerce, limit the use, require labeling, or place other restrictions on chemicals that pose unreasonable risks. Among the chemicals EPA regulates under Section 6 authority are asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons, and PCBs.

Top of Page



For related information visit EPA’s National Indian Country Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Priority site and EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program in Indian country site.


Local Navigation



Jump to main content.