AKWESASNE, New York – The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has become the first tribe nationally to receive approval of its plan to protect air quality on its territory under the federal Clean Air Act. The tribe’s territory is located in northern New York state and is bisected by the United States-Canada border.

The plan, formally known as a Tribal Implementation Plan, TIP, is a set of federally enforceable regulatory programs that identify how a tribe will achieve and maintain standards for principal air pollutants identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

“By formally adopting this comprehensive plan to combat air pollution, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe has demonstrated environmental leadership in the greatest of Akwesasne traditions,” said EPA Regional Administrator Alan Steinberg as he approved the plan October 22.

“Federal approval of our TIP is a significant achievement for the tribe since it signals both our commitment and longstanding efforts to protect and preserve our environment, including the air,” said the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council.

“This is especially important since we have seen marked increases in recent years in the incidence of asthma and upper respiratory illnesses in our people,” the council said.

“As Mohawks, we are obligated to uphold the highest environmental standards for future generations. We must also credit our stalwart team in the Tribe’s Environment Division for leading the charge in this area,” said the council, the tribe’s elected government.

A tribal implementation plan is part of a broader tribal air quality management program that may include programs to enforce limits on air pollutants, monitor air quality, inventory emission sources, issue operating permits for facilities, and address indoor air pollution.

In this case, the environmental programs included in the tribe’s plan cover air quality standards for sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone.

It also includes measures to deal with permitting, open burning, and other enforcement activities.

“Particulate matter, ozone-forming nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants, may trigger asthma, lead to serious respiratory illnesses and other harmful health effects,” said Steinberg. “In order to continue the progress toward healthy air, we will need more leadership like that of this tribe, because air pollution knows no borders.”

Under the provisions of the Clean Air Act, tribal nations that meet eligibility criteria can be treated in the same manner as a state for the purpose of developing clean air plans.

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe met the required criteria for developing a plan to protect the air quality within the exterior boundaries of the reservation.

In 2007, the St. Regis met all the necessary criteria for the EPA to approve the tribal plan by completing the public hearings required for the adoption of the environmental plan.

The St. Regis Mohawk Territory is home to some 10,000 people. The council says the tribe promotes lifestyles that respect, protect and enhance the environment for “the next seven generations at Akwesasne.”

In 2007, the tribe worked in partnership with the Akwesasne Task Force on the Environment. Together the organizations received an EPA Environmental Quality Award for environmental accomplishments – planting 33,000 trees, scientific research, information dissemination and partnership building.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.