EPA's odd behavior

Jan 14, 2015 By Steven R. Peck

Why would it back off Pavillion water but not the reservation border dispute?

For some time now, Fremont County citizens following the Pavillion-area groundwater contamination case have been wondering why, exactly, the federal Environmental Protection Agency decided to stop its investigation of the situation and hand over that authority to the State of Wyoming.

Some also wish the EPA would do the same thing in another local case.

Ranger reporter Eric Blom is among those wondering about the water issue, and he has filed requests through the Freedom of Information Act to review relevant documents related to the decision.

So far the closest thing to an answer the EPA has given is something to the effect that the state thought it could handle the job better, so the EPA just stepped back.

It's an odd move by the top environmental investigative and regulatory agency in the land to make. This case -- polluted groundwater that might have something to do with natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing nearby -- would seem to be right up the EPA's alley. This type of thing is what the EPA is all about. This is what EPA people do.

But if it's true that the powerful federal agency truly has decided that the State of Wyoming can do a better job than the EPA in handling the Pavillion water case, then why, we wonder, doesn't the EPA go ahead and make the same decision about the Wind River Indian Reservation border dispute?

Late in 2013 the EPA decided that air quality on and around the reservation needed better monitoring and decided to require a 50-mile buffer zone on all sides of the reservation for purposes of air quality control.

Fair enough, but then the EPA "determined" that the new areas defined by the 50-mile buffer zone actually were within the reservation itself -- including the City of Riverton.

The State of Wyoming objected immediately, citing, sensibly and obviously, the 1905 Act of Congress that ceded, or separated, the new Riverton townsite from the reservation. The state argues, again with common sense and precedent on its side, that a federal pollution agency might have the authority to make pronouncements about air quality, but it has no business redefining the borders of the State of Wyoming.

Strangely, the EPA was willing and quick to back down from its logical authority over the Pavillion-area groundwater, yet it is more or less sticking to its guns on the reservation border proclamation -- an issue in which it has no logical authority at all.

The border case now is inching its way through the federal court system -- one of several lawsuits Wyoming is pressing against the EPA.

EPA, here's a suggestion: You have your hands full enough with the actual environmental concerns which are your agency's purview. How about following your own example? Back off this border situation and acknowledge, as you did in the Pavillion water case, that the state can handle it just fine without you.

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