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EPA opposition

Mar 10, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Outcry over the Indian reservation border ruling is louder because of who made it

If the recent opinion by the Environmental Protection Agency that the borders of the Wind River Indian Reservation include the city of Riverton and other territory recognized for generations as not part of the reservation had been made by some other federal administrative agency -- say, the Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Disease Control - there probably wouldn't be so much turmoil.

As it is, however, many who are fighting the ruling are doing so not simply because they disagree with the reservation opinion but because they despise the EPA.

The agency is reviled across many layers of Wyoming's citizenry, viewed widely as the poster child for overactive and over-reaching agencies operated by unelected, out of touch and, ultimately, unaccountable officials who have acquired far more power than they deserve and wield it to damaging effect.

Fair or not, this is the EPA's image here.

From the glacial pace of federal permitting on energy development, to the "war on coal" blamed by many for the steep drop-off in the Wyoming coal economy, and now to the proposed redrawing of the Indian reservation map ostensibly on the grounds of air-quality, most people in positions of power in Wyoming have no use for the EPA.

Illustration: When asked by one of our reporters whether he worried that fighting the reservation ruling might jeopardize Wyoming's relationship with the EPA, State Sen. Eli Bebout's response was "What relationship?"

The last thing most of Wyoming's top brass worries about in taking on this fight is whether the EPA's feelings will be hurt. The state is ready to put its money behind its position, preparing to set aside millions of dollars for courtroom battles over the next couple of years.

No doubt other western states will applaud the effort, not because they have any familiarity or particular sensibility on the reservation border question, but simply because they hate EPA. Now, Fremont County is joining the fray, opting to add its name to the federal legal actions as a supportive party.

The Environmental Protection Agency was created with good intentions, with valuable, perhaps even noble, goals as its foundation. It was created, in fact, by a conservative Republican president, Richard Nixon (at least, he was viewed as a conservative at the time). Today, however, EPA is seen often as too powerful, too intrusive, and strayed too far from its core mission. And in Wyoming, those who feel that way have the means, the determination, and now, with the January ruling on the reservation borders, the fresh catalyst to resist.

For some years prior to the EPA involvement, the renewed tribal case for declaring Riverton and other adjacent land to be part of the reservation Was based primarily on the jurisdictional challenges mounted by Andrew Yellowbear, a man convicted of murdering his own tiny daughter.

It long had been argued, including by the editorial writer, that the Wind River tribes ought to find a better vehicle to carry their argument on reservation boundaries than a convicted baby killer.

In light of the fervent opposition to both the recent ruling and the entity that made it, perhaps they still haven't found it.