CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Ten states are urging a federal appeals court to review from scratch the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision that Riverton and surrounding lands in Wyoming remain legally Indian Country.
The states filed a brief this week with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. They are Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah.
The states don't take a position on the EPA's determination in late 2013 that the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming was never diminished by federal action 100 years ago. The EPA addressed the boundary issue in granting a request from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to treat their joint reservation as a separate state under the federal Clean Air Act.
The 10 states maintain that applying federal common law principles to historical facts is outside the EPA's area of expertise in administering the federal Clean Air Act. Accordingly, they say, the appeals court ought to consider the EPA's legal conclusions from the ground up, giving them no more weight than the court gives to Wyoming's opposite interpretation of the facts.
Wyoming, along with Riverton, Fremont County and various organizations, is appealing the EPA's decision. The federal agency has until early April to file its response.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has said the EPA used incomplete facts and faulty legal conclusions in reaching its decision.
"The EPA set a dangerous precedent altering Wyoming's boundary by administrative action," Mead said in October when the state announced its appeal. He has said that classifying Riverton and surrounding lands as Indian Country would have dramatic consequences for the area in terms of law enforcement, taxation and government services.
Mead characterized this weeks' legal filing by the 10 other states as support for Wyoming's position.
"Wyoming — and no state — should have its sovereignty affected through federal agency action. The EPA is fundamentally wrong, and I am glad for the support of all these states in this matter," Mead stated Monday in a prepared release.
Northern Arapaho officials issued a statement disagreeing with Mead's conclusion that the involvement of the other states amounts to support for Wyoming's position.
Dean Goggles, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, issued a statement Tuesday noting that 40 other states "kept a safe distance from Wyoming's attack on the Wind River Tribes."
"Alabama and nine other states presented the 10th Circuit with a technical legal argument about the standard of review," Goggles said. "All 10 of these states specifically stopped short of joining Gov. Mead in his effort to shrink the Wind River Reservation."
Business council co-chairman Ron McElroy, said, "We are not sure what Wyoming is crowing about here."