Wyoming Attorney General Peter K. Michael, center, flanked by Assistant AG Jeremiah Williamson and Governor’s Chief of Staff Kari Gray at today’s meeting. Joshua Scheer photo.
(Fort Washakie, Wyo.) – High tensions over the Environmental Protection Agency’s December ruling regarding the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation were mostly kept at bay during the first intergovernmental discussion on the matter since it was announced.
The discussion was an agenda item on the Wyoming State Legislature’s Select Committee on Tribal Relations held in the Joint Business Council Chambers in Fort Washakie this afternoon.
Starting the discussion, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, the committee’s co-chair, urged civility. “We’ve worked through a lot of controversial issues in the past,” he said.
In the meeting Wyoming Attorney General Peter K. Michael announced that his office sent a 24-page letter to the EPA asking to hold implementation of its decision giving the tribes state status for the purpose of air quality monitoring. The letter also asks the agency to reconsider boundaries it included as constituting the reservation, which it states includes Riverton and Kinnear.
Michael, and others, clarified that at issue to the state is not that the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes would have a say in air quality matters within a 50 mile radius of the exterior boundaries, but that the boundaries included lands that the state has owned and managed for more than 100 years. Because EPA’s ruling put Riverton inside the boundaries of the reservation, the tribes could hypothetically have direct regulatory authority on air quality issues and projects in the town.
No one at the meeting on the state side of the discussion argued that the tribes should not have a say in air quality matters in neighboring state lands.
The EPA’s decision was announced in early December, but was formally filed in the federal register on Dec. 19. The state has until Feb. 18 to file a formal petition, which Michael said it had not yet done. Once a petition is filed, Michael said he expects the Tenth Circuit Court to address the matter rather quickly, but if it goes on to the U.S. Supreme Court the timing could be lengthy.
Michael said in the meantime he thinks a hold on implementation could be possible. However, he noted per questioning, that the EPA is not mandated to respond to the state’s request.
No EPA representatives were present.
Legal representatives for both tribes were present. The Northern Arapaho attorney declined giving any comment, but handed a letter to Case. The Eastern Shoshone attorney said the tribe definitely has legal concerns surrounding the issue.
Joint Business Council Chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr. emphasized that the tribes had been on the land for thousands of years and were granted the reservation in 1868, before Wyoming became a state in 1890. His main emphasis was that he wished more discussions had been had between the tribes, the state, and other entities before the decision had been made public and comments made to media. He said some comments had made it sound as if tribal members were not state citizens. “We are taxpayers; we are citizens; we do vote,” he said.
Fremont County Commission Chairman Doug Thompson and Riverton Mayor Ron Warpness both agreed with St. Clair and said they wished discussions had taken place earlier as well. But the two also said residents beyond tribal members are also concerned about what the ruling means for them. “There’s anxiety and angst on both sides,” Warpness said. He said he’d heard about people refusing to buy land in Riverton or planning to move if the reservation “takes over” Riverton.
Thompson said he would like clarity on where the EPA’s ruling could lead to in the future.
“I wouldn’t want Riverton, myself,” St. Clair said, jokingly. “I went to school in Lander.”
Sara Robinson, Gov. Matt Mead’s Tribal Liaison, said the issue has put in her in a tough spot. She said the ruling has made many tribal members kind of feel like enemies of the rest of the state.
Tribal member and active citizen Sergio Maldonado said everyone needs to remember that whether you’re white or pure Northern Arapaho, everyone is a human first and foremost. He urged civility and recommended not going into litigation, arguing that straight forward civil conversations would be more productive.
“We are on the threshold of bringing everything to a screeching halt,” Maldonado said.
Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, co-chair of the committee, also said he wished there could have been a little more clarification on the whole situation before it got to where it is now. However, he said he was confident there was common ground that could be found among all the parties.