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Home    |   Print Edition   |   NEPA: A Tool for Tribes Challenging Nuclear Regulatory Commission Licensed Uranium Extraction Projects

NEPA: A Tool for Tribes Challenging Nuclear Regulatory Commission Licensed Uranium Extraction Projects

Apr 01, 2020

Cheyenne Overall

Volume 46 (2019) - Issue 2

Native American tribes have an extensive history of resisting uranium extraction on and near their reservations. Over the years, tribes have employed a myriad of approaches to combat efforts to license new uranium extraction projects. These efforts include pursuing extraction bans, advancing human rights violation arguments, and intervening on project licensing proceedings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. During the licensing proceeding for the Dewey Burdock Project, the Oglala Sioux argued that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to adequately consider the project’s impacts on the tribe’s cultural resources. In a surprising decision in Oglala Sioux v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the D.C. Circuit sided with the tribe and agreed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to comply with National Environmental Policy Act’s cultural resource analysis requirement. Indeed, the Oglala Sioux had a similar experience before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board when it intervened in the Crow Butte licensing proceeding. Although the court did not revoke the license, the decision has impaired the project’s progress. In a time when tribes have had difficulties challenging all sorts of extraction projects that affect their quality of life, the D.C. Circuit case’s outcome can be viewed as a success story for tribes. The question then is: why was the Oglala Sioux’s cultural resource challenge so effective? In this Note, I argue that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s structure, norms, and rules both facilitated tribal challenges to extraction projects on cultural resource grounds and limited tribal success with National Environmental Policy Act ecological resources challenges.