State officials, tribes at odds over EPA boundary ruling

2014-06-10T08:00:00Z State officials, tribes at odds over EPA boundary rulingBy TREVOR GRAFF Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 10, 2014 8:00 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming legislators renewed Monday the ongoing battle over an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that would include Riverton as a portion of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes and state officials found themselves at odds with the handling of the matter during a public hearing at Central Wyoming College in Riverton. State officials say that the EPA does not have the power to delineate tribal boundaries, while tribal officials stand behind the agency’s ruling.

“I think this decision is only reaffirming what we have known for quite some time,” said Eastern Shoshone Business Council Chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr. “I am disappointed that the state would take our taxpayer money and use it to fight against us. I’m hoping for the best and that being that things will get better and that we all will learn to live to get along with one another.”

St. Clair noted that racial tension has increased in the area since the EPA’s decision and said he hopes both sides can sit down and work through the ongoing issues.

“This decision still won’t take care of the social issues,” St. Clair said during the hearing, at a meeting of the Wyoming Joint Select Committee on Tribal Affairs. “It won’t take care of the racism that goes both ways. The decision has stirred up a lot of issues for some people.”

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Darrell O’Neal Sr. said his tribe found no reason to provide formal testimony as Gov. Matt Mead has already promised to use the state’s considerable resources to fight the ruling.

Mead worked in coordination with the state’s congressional delegation to draft legislation that states that more than 171,000 disputed acres were not included in the 1905 land act cited by the EPA — one counterattack in a multifaceted plan aimed at derailing the December ruling. Attorney General Pete Michael’s petition in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also challenges the EPA’s decision.

Devon Energy and the Wyoming Farm Bureau joined the state in its case against the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone.

The EPA granted a stay in the case at the request of Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone officials to ease tensions in Riverton and allow time to educate the agencies involved with the ruling.

“It’s a partial stay that allowed the EPA to continue on with the grant process for the tribes to continue the air quality monitoring program,” Michael said. “The state of Wyoming has no objections to continuing on with the program, but the question is: What is the scope of the land covered by the treatment of state program?”

The dispute began after the EPA was required to define a boundary for the reservation as part of the permitting process that would allow the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone to independently monitor air quality on their lands.

Michael said he does not have an exact date for when oral arguments might take place, but he is optimistic the court will move forward before the end of the year.

Members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation voiced concern over what they consider federal overreach on the part of the EPA.

“We think we should all be concerned about this overreach in which a federal agency charged with protecting human health and environment has decided reservation boundaries,” Senators Enzi and Barrasso and Rep. Lummis wrote in a letter to the committee.

The border war has attracted the attention of the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance, a group seeking the end of tribal sovereignty in the United States. CERA plans to hold a meeting at Riverton City Hall on Friday and a conference at the Fremont County Fairgrounds on Saturday.

With tempers already running short in the area, members of the Eastern Shoshone tribe are concerned by the group’s emerging interest.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” chairman St. Clair said. “It seems like it will just create more problems among both sides.”

While the two sides disagree on the merits of the ruling, civility won out in the committee hearing. Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, reminded both sides where his committee stands.

“We have as a committee promoted civility on this issue,” Goggles said. “We have also promoted open communication, and we hope that we can continue to promote common ground.”

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