Speeches

Washington, D.C.- Today Senator McCain addressed the Indian Affairs Committee and gave the following remarks:

Good afternoon. Today we meet to discuss a proposed substitute bill to S. 1687, the Indian Tribal Government Waste Management Act.

The substitute bill is based upon the testimony we received at our first hearing in October and in follow up discussions with tribal leaders and Indian Organizations, including a working group of individuals from tribes and Indian organizations with extensive experience in the development of environmental programs on Indian lands.

Today's hearing is a continuation of that process, and will likely result in further revisions to this substitute.

The environment and public works committee is working to complete action on a bill reauthorizing RCRA. I am pleased to note that language has been included in the mark-up vehicle which authorizes Indian tribal governments to be treated as states under RCRA. I am appreciative of the action taken by the Environment and Public Works Committee and hope the bill goes to the president with this language.

Notwithstanding the favorable actions on RCRA reauthorization, there are a broad variety of issues in Indian country which remain to be addressed.

First, the historic lack of coordination between BIA, EPA, and IHS with respect to these issues. Part of this problem may be overlapping and conflicting authority for each agency. S. 1687 may still be necessary in order to streamline and clarify the Roles of the three federal agencies.

Second, the BIA historically has had broad statutory authority to approve or disapprove various activities on Indian lands. In the area of waste management, Congress has never provided explicit direction, guidelines or standards for the exercise of that authority. Again, S.1687 may be necessary to provide this kind of direction.

Third, the Environment and Public Works mark-up does not address the question of midnight dumping.

Fourth, the Environment and Public Works markup does not address the question of adequate financial assistance for planning, code development, and enforcement of environmental regulations on Indian lands.

As we move through the legislative process it may well be that some of these outstanding issues can be addressed in other bills. However, at the present time it is clear that most, if not all, of the provisions of S. 1687 may be necessary to address the unique circumstances which exist in Indian country.

Clearly, past federal efforts have not been adequate to protect Indian people and their lands. I believe further direction and focus on Indian environmental problems is necessary unless we want to wake up 20 years from now and find out that environmental problems of all kinds have proliferated in Indian country and pose an even greater risk to the health and well-being of Indian people and a great diminishment of the tribes' most valuable tangible asset -- their lands.

We should all heed the counsel of chief Seattle “Continue to contaminate your own bed,” he said, and “You will one night suffocate in your own waste.”

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