Dec 12, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterLocal state legislators are concerned a Dec. 10 Environmental Protection Agency ruling could hurt Wyoming's economy, but they were skeptical the change would have a larger impact.
The federal agency's decision would grant the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes the same status as a state under the Clean Air Act and would grant the tribes some authority over air pollution for 50-miles from the borders of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Drawing on a Department of the Interior legal opinion, the EPA decided the reservation extends north of the Wind River into Hot Springs County, encompassing Riverton, Kinnear and Pavillion.
The 50-mile zone would include the Jonah natural gas field, the proposed Moneta Divide natural gas development, Dubois, Pinedale, Thermopolis and Worland.
Despite some concern about the boundary covering towns like Riverton, Case said the EPA ruling doesn't give the tribes authority over anything but air quality.
"The tribes are allowed to participate as a state government is allowed to participate," he said. "It's not necessarily creating new law. ...They recognized Indian Country boundaries, but it's only in respect to permitting."
He said the tribes will be able to comment on permits for projects affecting air quality within the reservation and the 50-mile zone around it. Federal authorities would have to respond in writing to those recommendations.
Specifically, he said the change doesn't give the tribes law enforcement jurisdiction in Riverton.
Commission chairman Doug Thompson thought the EPA was giving the tribes greater authority.
"What this does is give regulatory authority," he said.
He added that the decision would have economic impacts.
"Dealing with these types of issues with any type of government is hurting our prosperity," he said.
State Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, questioned whether the EPA's decision could change the status of land north of the Wind River. He indicated past judicial decisions held that the territory was not on the reservation.
Northern Arapahoe Tribe spokesman Mark Howell thought the EPA decision gave the tribes three new abilities related to the Clean Air Act. In an interview he said the tribes now can monitor atmospheric pollutants.
He said the tribes also have a right to be notified of any new major emitters of air pollution within 50 miles of the reservation's border, as the EPA interprets that boundary.
Finally, Howell said the tribes are to be able to comment on those projects.
The tribes applied to the EPA to be treated as a state "for the purpose of developing air quality monitoring capability and developing expertise," Howell said.
The DOI's opinion about the reservation's boundaries, stating that a 1905 Act of Congress did not diminish the reservation, and that Riverton and other communities are within the reservation, raised further issues.
Commissioner Keja Whiteman said she had already received calls from worried constituents about jurisdiction questions, and the commissioner urged calm.
"My concern is all the propaganda about taxation, jurisdiction, and the anti-American Indian, anti-Northern Arapaho Tribe talk," she said. "If there are issues, we need to take them point by point."
Before the EPA's decision about the tribes' authorities over air quality takes effect, the agency will have to publish its ruling in the Federal Register and hold a 60-day public comment period.
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