WASHINGTON – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who has highlighted strengthening tribal partnerships as a top priority during her tenure, recently announced an internal restructuring that brings EPA’s international and tribal programs together under one umbrella organization called the Office of International & Tribal Affairs. This restructuring was initiated in response to a request from the tribes to reconsider the proper location of the American Indian Environmental Office.
“This change ensures that we approach our relationship with the sovereign tribal nations within our own country in the same way we approach our relationship with sovereign nations beyond U.S. borders,” Jackson said. “I am confident this move will result in new and positive directions for the EPA-tribal partnership.”
In early 2009, Jackson met with the National Congress of American Indians and announced her intention to review the American Indian Environmental Office’s placement in the EPA structure. After consultation with the National Tribal Caucus and EPA leadership in July 2009, she announced the restructuring that would move AIEO from the Office of Water to the Office of International Affairs, and rename the office to reflect the inclusion.
“Tribes and tribal lands face disproportionate environmental and public health concerns” said Michelle DePass, assistant administrator for the new OITA. “It is my honor to assume leadership of the American Indian Environmental Office – and I look forward to working with tribal communities as partners in overall efforts to address these pressing issues.”
The president’s 2011 budget request for the agency includes a $41.4 million increase in tribal funding across the country, of which $30 million is targeted for new multimedia tribal grants. This new grant program will be tailored to address individual tribes’ most serious environmental needs through the implementation of environmental programs, and will help tribes address their environmental priorities to the fullest extent possible.
In addition, a 24 percent increase of $2.9 million is proposed to support new staff positions to oversee, provide guidance, and ensure accountability for the new grant program; an additional $8.5 million is provided for General Assistance Program grants which can be put towards programs and projects ranging from assistance for enforcement and compliance activities to education and job training, a 13 percent increase over final Fiscal Year 2010 budget levels.