Delegation to EPA: Butt Out of Wyoming Borders

Washington, D.C – More than a century ago, Congress set the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation within Wyoming. Since then, more land has been returned to the tribes and the boundaries clarified through further congressional acts. Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that a non-tribal town falls under the jurisdiction of the tribes, essentially rewriting the borders within the state and ignoring more than 100 years of precedent concerning tribal boundaries.

            This determination by the EPA was made as the tribes applied to be recognized as a “state” under the Clean Air Act for purposes of managing pollution within its boundaries. According to the Wyoming congressional delegation, the EPA has not only overstepped its boundaries, but is wading into territory not authorized by law. The delegation plans to introduce legislation to reverse the EPA’s decision to place Riverton under the jurisdiction of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Representative Cynthia Lummis, all R-Wyo., said they don’t want to add to or take away from reservation land. They just want to keep the borders the same as they have been for decades, the way they were before the EPA’s erroneous decision in December attempted to make Riverton part of the reservation. 

Nothing in the delegation’s legislation would diminish the size of the reservation or prevent the tribes from being treated as a state under the Clean Air Act. The bill would merely clarify existing law and more than 100 years of precedent concerning tribal boundaries, the delegation said. The delegation provided the tribes with a copy of the proposed legislation last week and asked for any comments or concerns to be made by Friday, April 4.

 

Background

In 1905, Congress ratified an agreement with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes to cede a portion of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to the United States for the purpose of facilitating a non-Indian settlement. See Act of March 3, 1905, ch. 1452, 33 Stat. 1016. The 1905 Act diminished the size of the reservation to the residual area not ceded to the United States. Following the cession, non-Indians settled large segments of the ceded area and established the City of Riverton, Wyoming. However, not all of the ceded land was settled by non-Indians. Between 1940 and 1975, the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, under authority granted by Congress, issued a series of orders that restored to the reservation the unsettled ceded land.

On December 6, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded, as part of a decision on the tribes’ application for treatment as a state under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7601(d), that Congress’s 1905 Act did not reduce the size of the reservation. Instead, according to the EPA, the 1905 Act merely opened the reservation to non-Indian settlement. As a result, the EPA concluded that the City of Riverton is located within the reservation, notwithstanding the state’s extensive historical exercise of jurisdiction in that area subsequent to the 1905 Act.

The delegation’s legislation corrects the EPA’s erroneous conclusion that Congress did not diminish the reservation in 1905. It would clarify that the reservation includes the diminished reserve from 1905, as expanded by subsequent restoration orders issued by the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior. It would also provide the citizens of Wyoming with certainty that the State of Wyoming has jurisdiction over the areas not part of the reservation, including the City of Riverton.
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Topics : EnvironmentPolitics
Location : RivertonWashingtonWyoming
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