By Patti Jo King -- Today correspondent
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has been honored as a national, innovative leader in the effort to protect the environment. In recognition of its commitment to improve air quality and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency presented the tribe its prestigious Clean Air Excellence Award.Ryan Callison, specialist with the Cherokee Nation's environmental program, explained that the tribe became active in ambient air quality monitoring in 1996, establishing a network of criteria pollutant monitors in the states of Oklahoma and New Mexico. As the lead agency in the Inter-Tribal Environmental Council, the nation has been the forerunner in protecting health, natural resources and the environment for the tribal community, according the EPA's Web site. Callison said the tribe is dedicated to providing quality environmental data to rural and tribal communities.''It's an honor to be viewed as a national leader in tribal air quality,'' Callison said. ''I'm very proud of our environmental program staff.''The Cherokee Nation oversees five stationary air-monitoring stations as well as a mobile air-monitoring station, the largest tribally owned and operated system of its kind in the United States. It also provides technical assistance to the 42 tribes that comprise the membership of the ITEC.According to the EPA, by providing other tribes with data for the management and protection of air quality within their own tribal boundaries, the Cherokee Nation has created a strong model for the improvement of ambient air quality for tribal communities throughout the United States.William Wehrum, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, congratulated the tribe and other winners of the agency's 7th annual Clean Air Excellence Awards.
''One should never underestimate the power of American innovation. These original ideas and cutting-edge projects embody our nation's unwavering commitment to cleaner, healthier air.''Through the annual awards program, established in 2000 at the recommendation of the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, recognition is given to the most innovative or unique programs, projects or technologies that reduce emissions of criteria pollutants or hazardous and toxic air pollutants. Those who provide a successful, sustainable model for others to follow are also honored.The EPA's awards are broken up into five categories: clean air technology, community action, education/outreach, regulatory/policy innovations and transportation efficiency innovations. There are also two additional awards for visionary programs and individual achievement. The Cherokee Nation was the recipient of the community action award.''The Cherokee people have lived in this area for more than 160 years,'' said Principal Chief Chad Smith. ''We have the strongest possible attachment to the land, air and water here ... [We] drink the water, breathe the air and live on the land. The Cherokee people have always been a guardian of the land. We've developed an expertise in monitoring water and air quality because of our strong sense of responsibility for the quality of life for everyone who lives within the Cherokee Nation.''