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Oral Saulters

Indiana University, Ph.D.
EREF Scholar 2014

Sustainable Waste Management in Tribal Communities

Project Description:
Many tribal communities across the United States are grappling with chronic challenges involving solid and hazardous waste. While there is significant diversity between tribes, there are some common environmental management issues that persist relating to jurisdictional authorities, consistent funding, and administrative capacity. According to EPA, the number of reported open dump sites on tribal lands has increased significantly from 600 in 1994 to over 4000 in 2010. Risks associated with these sites include safety hazards; contamination of air, soil, surface and groundwater resources; disease spread via vectors; increased risk of fire; and other adverse environmental impacts; all of which present serious public health concerns. Assessing and cleaning up the sites can be complicated and expensive for tribal governments resulting in disparate outcomes. Sustainable approaches are needed which address local conditions. With a lack of information on baseline and causal conditions, applied research is critical to support better characterization of the interdependent social ecological systems. This is important for planning and implementing integrated solutions based on tribally-defined needs.

The overarching goal of my research is to apply advanced understandings of tribal environmental programs and sustainable waste management innovations in the Pacific Southwest to best management practices incorporating sound knowledge of social ecological systems. Specific objectives include:

  1. Investigate the influence of institutional arrangements, capacity, and networks on waste management.
  2. Measure the effectiveness of environmental programs with integrated planning and implementation.
  3. Assess social ecological systems and local knowledge with respect to environmental quality.
  4. Design a sustainable waste decision framework and outreach program with cultural considerations.

Oral is pursuing a Ph.D. at the Indiana University School of Environmental and Public Affairs, where his studies focus on environmental policy, public management, and Native American and Indigenous Studies. He is completing a graduate fellowship with US EPA Region 9 addressing tribal waste management systems. A licensed professional engineer, Oral earned his bachelor’s degree at Kansas State University, and a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. His experience includes supporting the Technical Assistance to Brownfields program for community redevelopment and environmental justice with the Center for Hazardous Substance Research; green design of non-lethal technologies for the US DoD Joint Non Lethal Weapons Directorate; NEPA and CERCLA evaluations for the US Army; RCRA permitting work with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality; and investigations of the effectiveness of hydrothermal oxidation for destroying chemical wastes with the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers National Committee on Sustainability and Environment and an Associate Editor for the Journal of Science Policy & Governance.