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Tribal Land Cleanup Laws and Regulations

Preventing the contamination of land and preserving critical resources that rely on available land is vital to protecting and creating healthy and vibrant commu­nities and ecosystems. EPA works collaboratively with tribes, states, and local governments to preserve our land. A number of federal statutes or laws form the legal basis for the Office of Land and Emergency Management's programs. Below are a list of land protection cleanup and prevention laws that may apply to tribal governments.

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Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund)

Statutory Overview

CERCLA provides broad authority for federal program response to releases of hazardous substances and pollutants or contaminants.

Tribal Status

  • Pursuant to CERCLA section 126, the governing body of tribes are afforded substantially the same treatment as states for many response-related purposes, including: notification of releases, consultation on remedial action, access to information, and roles and responsibilities under the National Contingency Plan (NCP).
  • CERCLA section 104 allows EPA to enter into cooperative agreements with eligible tribes to perform or participate in Superfund-eligible site response activities. (EPA retains final oversight authority.)

Learn more about the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

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Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986

(Expanded on under the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990)

Statutory Overview

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) serves to inform communities and citizens of chemical hazards in their areas. EPCRA Section 313 requires covered facilities to annually report to EPA and their state on releases and transfers of toxic chemicals. EPA is required to make this data available to the public in a database, which is called the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 expanded the information required to be reported to the TRI to include information on waste management and source reduction activities. EPCRA also serves to encourage and support planning for responding to environmental emergencies.

Tribal Status

EPA recognizes a role for tribes similar to states in planning for responding to chemical emergencies. EPA regulations under EPCRA Section 313 establish requirements for covered facilities located in Indian country to report TRI information to the appropriate tribes.

Learn more about the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986.

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Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Statutory Overview

The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) provided new requirements in part by amending section 311 of the Clean Water Act, for preventing, preparing for, and responding to any oil spill affecting inland U.S. waters; expanded liability provisions; and consolidated existing oil spill liability funds into, and strengthened, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to provide greater resources to respond to oil spills.

Tribal Status

  • The OPA addresses natural resource damages and provides for Indian Tribe Trustees for natural resources.
  • The federal government must direct all public and private response efforts to spills, although states and tribes may implement their own, non-federal oil programs.
  • Indian Tribe Trustees for natural resources are authorized to assess and recover natural resource damages, and the Trust Fund is authorized to be used for payment of Indian Tribes natural resources trustees for costs incurred in restoring/rehabilitating, etc. natural resources damaged by an oil spill.

OSWER’s Oil Program uses the authorities under both OPA and the Clean Water Act (CWA), and their implementing regulations (NCP and the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Regulation (SPCC)) to address the potential environmental threats posed by petroleum and non-petroleum oils

Learn more about the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

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Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

Statutory Overview

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the management of solid and hazardous waste and underground storage tanks (USTs) to ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally safe manner. The goals of RCRA also include conserving energy and natural resources through waste recycling and recovery and reducing or eliminating waste generation.

Learn more about the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Tribal Status

  • Based on the findings of U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Backcountry Against Dumps v. EPA (October 29, 1997), tribes can not be treated in the same manner as states for purposes of implementing RCRA programs.
  • Subtitle D (Solid Waste): EPA cannot approve a tribal Municipal Solid Waste Landfill (MSWL) permit program as it does with states. However, EPA can issue site-specific rules in Indian country that may provide flexibility to solid waste landfill requirements at 40 CRF Part 258.
  • Subtitle C (Hazardous Waste) & I (Underground Storage Tanks): EPA maintains direct implementation authority in Indian country.

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Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act

Statutory Overview

The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act (Brownfields Law, P.L. 107-118) amends CERCLA. The Law defines brownfields sites and authorizes funding for assessment and cleanup of brownfields properties and state and tribal response programs. The Law limits the liability of certain contiguous property owners and prospective purchasers of brownfieldds properties and clarifies appropriate inquiry for innocent landowners to encourage revitalization and reuse of brownfields sites.

Tribal Status

Tribes are treated as states under the Law, with the exception that Alaska Native tribes (not including the Metlakatla Indian Community) are prohibited from receiving Section 104 funding. Because implementation authority is given to non-federal entities, Brownfields is not an authorized program, and there is no express TAS requirement for tribes. The role of tribes is voluntary; tribes may develop response programs and/or inventory, assess, and cleanup sites.

Learn more about the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act.

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