- Associated Press - Friday, February 14, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The State of Wyoming on Friday asked a federal appeals court to review a determination by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that lands around Riverton remain legally Indian Country.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office on Friday asked the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to review a decision the EPA announced in December. The EPA concluded a 1905 federal law opening over 1 million acres of the Wind River Indian Reservation to settlement by non-Indians didn’t extinguish the land’s reservation status.

The EPA addressed the boundary issue when it granted a request from both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to treat their joint reservation as a separate state under the federal Clean Air Act.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has blasted the EPA decision. He has said it’s up to Congress to determine reservation boundaries.


“I firmly believe that a decision of this significance should not come from a regulatory agency, especially when it goes against over 100 years of history, law and practice,” Mead said Friday.

“Those facts are why we had to challenge this in the courts and ask the agency to reconsider its decision,” Mead said. “We received good news yesterday when the EPA stayed its decision. The action creates some certainty while we wait for the agency to reconsider its position during a judicial review of this flawed decision.”

The EPA announced on Thursday that it would stay its decision pending court review. The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes had joined with the state in requesting the stay.

Mead has said that the EPA’s determination that Riverton and surrounding lands remained Indian Country called into question state jurisdiction over environmental regulation, education and law enforcement issues.

Leaders of the Northern Arapaho Tribe issued a statement on Thursday applauding the EPA’s stay pending court review. They said that tribal members have been exposed to increasing hostility as a result of the EPA’s decision.

“The state has been telling people in Riverton that the EPA decision will cause chaos,” said Dean Goggles, a member of the Northern Arapaho Business Council. “It’s nonsense. The stay allows us time to talk to each other without the panic Wyoming has been trying to create.”

Mark Howell, a spokesman for the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Washington, D.C., said Friday that the tribe is pleased that the matter now rests with the courts.

“Now, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case and we’ll move from there,” Howell said. He noted that the court will require parties to engage in mediation, a process he said the Northern Arapaho Tribe has been requesting.

Howell said it may take 18 months to get through the mediation process. He said it’s possible the dispute may go to the U.S. Supreme Court.