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Wyoming attorney general gives update on state's case over rez boundary issue

Jun 11, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Environmental Protection Agency's December definition of the Wind River Indian Reservation boundary through the Clean Air Act was a topic of discussion Monday during a meeting of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations at Central Wyoming College.

In granting the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes' request for treatment in a similar manner as a state last year, the EPA stated that the reservation was not diminished by a 1905 Act of Congress that opened certain areas, including the city of Riverton, to homesteading.

The State of Wyoming and others have challenged the EPA decision in federal court. The EPA has granted a partial stay of its December decision so all parties can address jurisdictional concerns associated with the reservation boundary.

AG update

During the Monday meeting, Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael said the partial stay allows the tribes to continue obtaining grant funding for air quality assessments.

"The State of Wyoming has no objection to the air quality program on the reservation," Michael said. "The tribes can move forward in getting the grant for the air quality program."

He also gave an update on the state's request that supplemental records be included in the ongoing case. The state has submitted dozens of documents, including six affidavits, to help court

officials reconsider the EPA's decision, Michael said. Most recently, the state submitted historical documents and other paperwork requested through the Freedom of Information Act.

He kept his comments brief, explaining that there are limits to what he can say while litigation is ongoing. He said he was not sure when court sessions would begin, but he expected opening arguments to be scheduled before the end of the year.

Tribal response

Tribal leaders at the meeting, including Northern Arapaho Business Council chairman Darrell O'Neal Sr. and Eastern Shoshone Business Council chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr., both declined to make formal statements in response to Michael's comments, but they continued to call for mutual respect and open communication when working through the implications of the EPA decision.

Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, noted that tribal officials and representatives from Michael's office were sitting in the same room for the meeting.

"This committee promotes civility on this issue," Goggles said. "It also promotes open communication, and we hope we can continue to promote common ground."

O'Neal read from a prepared note, stating, "Gov. (Matt) Mead has said he will use all of the state's considerable resources to challenge the decision upholding the status of our boundaries. ... Wyoming has put the matter into the federal courts."

Congressional delegation

Mead also has asked Wyoming's congressional delegation to draft a bill stating that the 1905 Act did diminish the reservation.

On Monday, a letter to the committee from the national delegates, including Sens. Michael Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Lummis, all R-Wyo., noted the draft bill they prepared would clarify existing law, keep the boundaries the same and not prevent the reservation from being treated as a state under the Clean Air Act for purposes of air quality monitoring.

"We think we should all be concerned about this overreach in which a federal agency charged with protecting human health and the environment has decided reservation boundaries," the statement said.

In response, O'Neal stated that the EPA ruling would not affect land ownership within the 1905 Act area. Instead, he said the boundary decision would "lead to significant cost savings" to the City of Riverton.

"(That's) including reduced law enforcement and justice system expenses and increased federal tax incentive," O'Neal said.

He added that the Northern Arapaho Tribe is the largest employer in Fremont County and generates millions in revenue.

"I do find it unfortunate that the state would take our taxpayers' money and use that to fight against us," St. Clair said.