As 2013 came to a close, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to summarily remove one million acres of the State of Wyoming’s land and transfer it to the American Indian Wind River Reservation. The state is suing the EPA to get its land back, saying the agency used incomplete facts and faulty legal conclusions when making its decision.
On February 14, Wyoming Attorney General Peter K. Michael filed the state’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit requesting that the EPA reverse its decision to award the reservation the land.
Initially, all the tribes wanted was the legal status to conduct air quality monitoring, but instead the EPA decided that the land belonged to the tribes and simply handed it over to their control. The agency did so despite a ruling from 1905 opening up the land for non-Indians.
Early in January, Wyoming Governor Mead issued a statement saying that he fully understood the desire of the native peoples to gain more land, but Mead worried about the “unilateral” power of the federal government.
“My deep concern,” Governor Mead wrote, “is about an administrative agency of the federal government altering a state’s boundary and going against over 100 years of history and law. This should be a concern to all citizens because, if the EPA can unilaterally take land away from a state, where will it stop?”
The EPA’s decision puts the rule of law at risk and causes extreme instability, state authorities say.
“EPA’s decision casts a shadow of uncertainty over the transactions and day-to-day operations of state agencies, courts, businesses and individuals within the disputed territory,” Attorney General Michael wrote.
Governor Mead also accused the EPA of going into this situation with a “predetermined outcome it sought to uphold.”
The state maintains that in conjunction with the tribes, Congress diminished the Wind River Reservation in 1905, so the EPA’s decision that the land belongs to the tribes was fundamentally flawed.
In the second week of February, the EPA decided to put the decision on hold “due to the unique circumstances of this case,” because both the Tribes and the state requested a stay of the decision while all sides consider options.
The tribes, though, accused the state acting in bad faith.
Northern Arapaho Tribe spokesman Mark Howell agreed that the EPA’s decision needed to be put on hold, but he maintained that such a stay is “in an effort to kind of quell some of the racial tensions that have been frankly generated by the state of Wyoming”
State officials deny this charge and say the tribes have never been left out of the process.
The EPA still claims its original decision was correct and plans to implement its ruling.