Northern Arapaho Tribe blasts Wyoming's bid to EPA
Editors Note Updates.
By BEN NEARY
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) _ The Northern Arapaho Tribe is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reject a request from the state of Wyoming to halt implementation of the agency's recent decision that over 1 million acres around Riverton remain legally Indian Country.
The federal agency announced in December that it had concluded a 1905 federal law opening part of the Wind River Indian Reservation to settlement by non-Indians didn't extinguish the land's reservation status.
The federal agency's conclusion has prompted sharp criticism from Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and other state officials. They say it calls into question state jurisdiction over the disputed lands on a range of issues including law enforcement and environmental regulation.
The EPA addressed the boundary issue when it granted a request from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to treat their joint reservation as a separate state under the federal Clean Air Act. That decision would give the tribes standing to be consulted on activities within a 50-mile radius of the reservation boundary on activities that promise to affect air quality.
Mead has pledged to challenge the EPA decision in court. The state has until Feb. 18 to file its appeal in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
In comments to the Wyoming Press Association in Laramie on Friday, Mead said he understands the tribes' desire to be more involved in environmental regulation. While he said the state and the tribes long have disagreed over the legal status of the disputed land, he said his real concern is with overreaching by the EPA.
``What's problematic here is you have a regulatory agency, the EPA, coming without notice to the state and saying, `We're redefining the boundaries of the reservation, and in doing so, we're redefining the boundaries of state jurisdiction,' `` Mead said. ``It's problematic that EPA does this. It should certainly be at a higher level, i.e. Congress.''
Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael earlier this month filed a formal request with the EPA asking the agency to stop any action to implement its decision about the disputed land and to reconsider its conclusion. His request included statements from a number of state agency directors about how their operations would be affected by a finding that the disputed land remains Indian Country.
Rich Mylott, spokesman for the EPA in Denver, said Wednesday the agency is still evaluating the state's petition. Regardless of how the EPA responds to Michael's request, it could help to bolster the state's argument for putting the agency's decision on hold while what promises to be a lengthy court battle plays out.
Lawyers for the tribe, with the Lander law firm of Baldwin, Crocker and Rudd, wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and EPA Regional Administrator Shawn McGrath in Denver on Tuesday urging them to reject the state's request.
The tribe's lawyers told the federal officials that the state's petition is full of errors of fact and law. They maintain that it shows the state fundamentally misunderstands the difference between land ownership versus the sovereign authority over the territory.
``Worse yet, the letter manufactures mythical consequences for local communities that appear to be designed to inflame racial division and conflict,'' the tribe's lawyers told the EPA.
Michael said Wednesday he had no comment on the letter.
By The Associated Press, Copyright 2014