EPA Turns Wyoming Town Over to Indian Tribe

Have you heard the story of the residents of Riverton, Wyo.? One day they were Wyomingans, the next they were members of the Wind River tribes — after the Environmental Protection Agency declared the town part of the Wind River Indian Reservation, undoing a 1905 law passed by Congress and angering state officials.

The surprise decision was made by officials of the EPA, the Department of Interior, and Department of Justice early last month, and has invoked the ire of Gov. Matt Mead, who has vowed not to honor the agency’s decision and is preparing to fight in court.

“My deep concern is about an administrative agency of the federal government altering a state’s boundary and going against over 100 years of history and law,” Mead said in a statement. “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 declared that Riverton was part of the Wind River Indian Reservation after granting a “Treatment as a State” application from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes. The tribes submit such applications to get funding for air quality monitoring under the Clean Air Act. However, this seemingly innocuous application ended up undoing the tribal boundaries set by a 1905 congressional act.

The EPA granted the tribes’ claim that the Wind River reservation extended over one million acres of land beyond what the 1905 Congressional Act established. By doing this, the agency effectively overruled an act of Congress, state officials charge.

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