On April 16, Attorney General Mike Hunter sharply rebuked the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for its attempted takeover of regulating coal mining and reclamation activities on land in Oklahoma subject to the McGirt decision. The response comes after the agency’s deputy director, Glenda Owens, sent letters to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the state Secretary of Energy and Environment saying the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma stripped the state of authority to regulate surface coal mining and reclamation operations on lands now considered the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation. The agency demanded that Oklahoma officials surrender their authority and records to federal officials within 30 days.
Attorney General Hunter said the Interior Department is ignoring relevant law. “I am advising that no state agency comply with this ill-advised power grab by the Biden administration,” Attorney General Hunter said. “Courts ruled a long time ago that reservation lands are not categorically exempt from state jurisdiction for all purposes. The McGirt ruling was about criminal jurisdiction, not all state regulations of industries. Further, we have supervised mines and reclamation operations in Oklahoma for decades and there is no legal basis for us to stop this practice now.” The letter says only Congress has the authority to change the regulatory authority on reservation lands from the state to the federal government. Even then, Congress faces limits in repealing a state’s civil jurisdiction over non-Native Americans on reservation land. The attorney general continues, the Interior Department is relying on false assumptions that states lack civil jurisdiction over reservation lands without federal approval.