The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Illegally Changed the Boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation; City of Riverton Now A Part of That Reservation

2/1/14 – Back in December, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency came out with an Administrative decision to change the Wind River Reservation boundaries to include the City of Riverton, Wyoming as part of its reservation.

The action is illegal. It violates at least one Treaty; the one that initially set the boundaries way back in 1905, over a hundred years ago.

Wyoming’s Republican delegation (two Senators, one Representative) objected in a letter to the EPA dated December 20, 2013. Now, I’m a friend of the American Indians (NOTE: I refer to them as American Indians, not Native Americans, simply because in the Indian town of Fort Washakie, where I spent several days working a case two summers ago, the Indians to whom I spoke referred to themselves as “American Indians” not “Native Americans.”), and generally agree with efforts to help them improve their lives, but their reservation and other Indian land already encompasses a huge portion of the State of Wyoming. Enough is enough.

A copy of the Wyoming Delegation’s letter came into my possession a couple of weeks ago, and I’m reproducing it here. If you’re interested in learning more about this illegal Administrative action by the EPA and what will be done to reverse it, please read this letter.

“Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515
December 20, 2013
The Honorable Gina McCarthy
Environmental Protection Agency
122 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator McCarthy,

We are writing to express our concerns regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to accept the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes’ application for treatment in a similar manner as a state for certain non-regulatory provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA). As part of that decision, your agency has made a determination on the wind river Indian Reservation boundaries, which now has the City of Riverton falling under the jurisdiction of the tribes. We believe this determination on boundaries is deeply flawed.

While we understand the tribes’ position of wanting to expand their borders and receive federal grants, the Congressional Act of 1905 can be no clearer on this issue as it ceded tribal lands (including Riverton) to non-natives. The language of the 1905 Act plainly demonstrates that Congress intended for tribal land to be diminished and since there has never been congressional action to cede the land back there should be no change in boundaries. The EPA’s decision has in effect overturned a law that had governed land and relationships for more than 100 years. Furthermore, the Wyoming Supreme Court backed this view up in Yellowbear v. State of Wyoming, ruling that Riverton is not a part of the reservation boundaries.

We are also very concerned about the potential ramifications this decision could have for the tribes and the State of Wyoming. In addition to the overregulation that will potentially occur on energy development in the contested area, it also has the potential to be used as precedent to alter criminal and civil jurisdiction in the area. The State of Wyoming plans to appeal this boundary decision in federal court, as its implications are concerning to citizens of Riverton and the State.

Due to these concerns and the fact that this decision should not be made by a regulatory agency we request that your agency rescind its decision and meet with the tribes, state officials and all interested parties on this issue as soon as possible. We believe all affected parties should be engaged on this matter. We thank you for your prompt reply to this urgent matter.

Michael B. Enzi
United States Senator

John Barrasso, M.D.
United States Senator

Cynthia Lummis
U.S. Representative”

I applaud the action taken by the Wyoming Congressional Delegation, and hope that, although speed is usually not something any agency of the Obama Administration is noted for, the EPA will respond quickly by rescinding this decision, born in ignorance of both history and law, and promulgated by an Obama appointee who is, herself, unqualified for the position to which Obama appointed her.


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