CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gov. Matt Mead has written to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy saying Wyoming won't honor her agency's recent determination that over 1 million acres around Riverton remains legally Indian Country.
The EPA earlier this month announced its determination that a 1905 federal law that opened part of the Wind River Indian Reservation to settlement by non-Indians didn't extinguish the land's reservation status.
The decision came in response to an application from the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes to treat the reservation they share as a separate state for purposes of implementing the federal Clean Air Act.
Mead wrote to McCarthy on Wednesday stating, "I believe the agency action is wrong and I will not honor it." He sent similar letters to tribal and local officials.
Mead said Thursday that the Wyoming Attorney General's Office is preparing to file an appeal in federal court. He said the ruling raises issues of criminal jurisdiction, taxation and administration and said Wyoming will ignore the decision until the courts rule on it.
"What we have is a regulatory agency with virtually no notice - and in fact we were notified after the fact - that has changed these jurisdictional boundaries, and said, 'here's a million acres and the jurisdiction has changed,'" Mead told The Associated Press.
Mead said he didn't see how, as a practical matter, the state could treat Riverton and the surrounding area as reservation land based solely on the EPA's opinion. "So we need a court ruling, and the court ruling hopefully will be in our favor," he said.
The legal status of the lands has been a sore point between the tribes and state and local governments over taxation and criminal jurisdiction for years. The courts have ruled against tribal members in several cases in which they tried to establish recognition for the lands around Riverton as Indian Country.
In regard to air-quality issues, the EPA decision states the tribes must be consulted on activities within 50 miles of the reservation boundary that could affect air quality. The decision means the tribes will be able to apply for grants to develop air quality monitoring programs and could proceed to apply for permission to administer air quality programs of their own in the future.
Rich Mylott, spokesman for the EPA in Denver, said Thursday that the agency is reviewing Mead's letter.
Mylott said EPA's boundary determination is based on a thorough evaluation of relevant statutes and case law, historical documents and other materials, including the tribes' application materials and comments from the public and federal agencies.
The EPA, together with the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior, "are working with the tribes, the state, and communities to identify and resolve any issues related to the reservation boundaries and ensure the protection of public health and the environment," Mylott said.
Mark Howell, lobbyist for the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Washington, D.C., said Thursday that Mead, as a former federal prosecutor, understands that the federal government makes the determination of the exterior boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
"The federal government has made a legal determination that the 1905 Act did not diminish the reservation," Howell said in a written statement. "That determination was made for all jurisdictional purposes."
Howell said the tribes are willing to consult with all of the stakeholders in Wyoming, including Mead, to work out the implementation of that decision. "Surely the governor doesn't want to violate federal law," he said.