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Tribal Air

Basic Information


EPA's Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) recognizes the primary role of tribes in protecting air resources in Indian country.  Indian tribes have express authority under the Clean Air Act (see the Plain English Guide to the Clean Air Act ) to manage air quality on their reservations.  

Tribal Authority and the Clean Air Act
The Tribal Authority Rule , or TAR, is the key to tribal implementation of the Clean Air Act.  The TAR identifies those provisions of the Clean Air Act for which it is appropriate to treat eligible federally-recognized tribes in the same manner as a state (TAS).  The TAR also defines the eligibility requirements for a tribe to apply to participate in many Clean Air Act programs.  In addition, the TAR describes the kinds of financial assistance available to tribes interested in pursuing an air quality program.

Voluntary Programs
Many tribes also participate in voluntary network monitoring efforts, monitoring for visibility, as well as for pollutants such as ammonia and mercury, and wet and dry acid deposition.

A number of tribes are also pursuing voluntary programs to implement non-Clean Air Act activities that protect the health and welfare of their communities and citizens.  These include smoke management programs, often conducted in cooperation with air quality agencies in surrounding states; indoor air quality programs, addressing issues like environmental tobacco smoke and mold; replacing woodstoves with much cleaner new models; and many tribes have tested homes in their communities for radon; one tribe has implemented a diesel retrofit program.

The EPA and tribal governments have also successfully collaborated in the past to provide lower emitting diesel vehicles and school buses to tribal nations.  The Diesel Emissions Reduction Program (authorized by Title VII, Subtitle G Sections 791 to 797 of the EPAct 2005) enables EPA to offer awards to eligible organizations and entities to fund projects that achieve significant reductions in diesel emissions from on-highway or non-road sources.  

Tribal Implementation Plans
Although not required to do so, a tribe with TAS eligibility may develop its own air quality control plan, called a Tribal Implementation Plan (TIP), for approval by EPA.  A TIP enacted by a tribal government and approved by the EPA is legally binding under both tribal and federal law and may be enforced by the tribe, EPA, and the public.  
Besides TIPs, there are other Clean Air Act programs for which tribes may receive approval or delegation, such as the Title V permit program, New Source Performance Standards, and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

Technical Assistance and Air Program Resources
OAR provides technical assistance and air program resources to help tribes build their tribal program capacity directly through headquarters and Regional Offices, as well as through Northern Arizona University's  Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals  which provides air quality training and technical assistance to tribes.  OAR is also developing Tribal New Source Review rules that will help EPA address air quality problems in Indian country in cases where a tribe may be unable to do so themselves.

Tribal Air Quality Management Progress

In 2010, the good work of tribal air quality program management continues:

  • 99 tribes are receiving air grant support;
  • Tribes are monitoring criteria and hazardous air pollutants to better understand their air quality. 78 tribes are monitoring with 52 reporting their air quality monitoring data to EPA’s Air Quality System. 22  tribes are conducting activities and implementing programs to address toxic air pollutants in their communities. These activities range from monitoring for acid and mercury deposition; to sampling subsistence food sources to measure the accumulation of toxins such as mercury, dioxin and pcb's; to working on assessment projects with other jurisdictions in their area; and doing outreach to their communities.
  • 1 tribe completed a diesel retrofit project, and 2 others undertook other projects to address diesel emissions.
  • 11 tribal governments and organizations participate in the "Communities in Action for Asthma Friendly Environments" Network. http://www.asthmacommunitynetwork.org/communityprofiles.aspx  
  • 3 tribes received grants to assess radon gas in homes, and 16 tribes participated in the radon testing program to evaluate radon levels in tribal housing
  • 56 tribes have completed inventories of emissions sources on their reservations and 13 more having pending inventories; and
  • 2 tribes are participating in the School Air Toxics monitoring work currently under way. For more information visit http://www.epa.gov/schoolair/index.html 

In addition, 32 tribes have received eligibility determinations (TAS)  under the Tribal Authority Rule; two tribes have been approved to implement TIPs to address air quality issues on their reservations, with several more under development; and one tribe has received a delegation (under Clean Air Act Part 71) to implement a Title V operating permit program for their reservation.

More tribal environmental professionals receive training in various aspects of air quality management and take further steps toward the development of comprehensive tribal air quality programs with each passing year.  In addition, tribal officials and the National Tribal Air Association  continue to participate on the national level through policy workgroups and advisory committees.

For more information on EPA Tribal Programs, visit EPA's American Indian Environmental Office or the American Indian Tribal Portal .


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