CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s administration is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to freeze implementation of its recent decision that over 1 million acres around Riverton remains legally Indian Country.
Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael wrote Monday to national EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Regional Administrator Shawn McGrath in Denver asking them to reconsider the agency’s decision.
The EPA ruled last month that 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 EPA addressed the reservation boundary issue in its decision last month that granted an application from the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. The tribes had applied to have the reservation treated as a separate state under the federal Clean Air Act.
Three members of the Northern Arapaho Business Council issued statements Monday blasting the state’s petition.
Wyoming claims the EPA’s analysis of area history is flawed. Michael charged that the federal agency took years to reach its conclusion without sharing its research while Wyoming has only until mid-February to file a legal challenge with a federal appeals court in Denver.
“EPA not only reached the wrong conclusion, but the agency also employed a fundamentally unfair and skewed process, to the detriment of the state and its citizens, in pursuit of its predetermined objective,” Michael wrote.
Rich Mylott, spokesman for the EPA in Denver, said Monday the agency is reviewing the state’s petition.
Michael maintains the record is clear that Congress intended to reduce the size of the Wind River Reservation when it opened certain lands to homesteading by non-Indians.
Michael submitted sworn statements from a range of state officials noting that a final determination that the disputed lands are Indian Country would affect a range of Wyoming residents who now receive state services.
Michael noted the state oversees a range of activities in the disputed area, including oversight of restaurants and school cafeterias by the state agriculture department. He noted also that the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton currently houses 233 inmates.
Mead has pledged to challenge the EPA decision in federal court. The state’s request to the EPA to halt implementation of its decision could help the state if it later asks the court to block the agency’s decision while the appeal plays out.
“My deep concern is about an administrative agency of the federal government altering a state’s boundary and going against over 100 years of history and law,” Mead said. “This should be a concern to all citizens because, if the EPA can unilaterally take land away from a state, where will it stop?”
Darrell O’Neal, Sr., chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, wrote to a Wyoming legislative committee on Monday declining its invitation to testify on the reservation boundary issue.
“The reservation boundary has been thoroughly researched and analyzed by both the Department of Interior and the EPA, which considered the views of all affected governments and the hundred-year history of the 1905 Act area,” O’Neal wrote to the Select Committee on Tribal Relations.
Mark Howell, lobbyist for the Northern Arapaho, on Monday forwarded comments from O’Neal and two other members of the Northern Arapaho Business Council blasting the state’s petition to the EPA.
“The petition is full of inaccurate statements,” O’Neal stated. “The state’s petition completely ignores the doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction. It’s totally inaccurate to suggest that restaurant food will become unsafe or that people in jail will go free....”
Business Council Co-Chairman Ronald Oldman said the state’s petition “makes you wonder if there is anyone in state government who actually understands these issues, and is willing to have an honest discussion.”
Councilman Dean Goggles said the council is disappointed with the state’s petition to the EPA.
“We have made every effort to cooperate with the state,” Goggles said. “Instead of cooperating, the state is resorting to scare tactics. The citizens of the state deserve better. This isn’t the 1800s.”