The U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision Tuesday the significance of which is likely to be debated in the ongoing dispute between the Wind River Indian Reservation tribes and the state of Wyoming regarding EPA’s decision to allow the tribes a voice in air quality decisions in central Wyoming.
In Nebraska, a tribe that had asserted jurisdiction for liquor law purposes over a nearby town, on original reservation lands then settled by outsiders, won a key ruling from the SCOTUS Tuesday. The court decision said that Congress didn’t legally “diminish” the reservation and its boundaries when it opened that reservation for settlement. Whether the WRIR was “diminished” by being opened up to settlement that established the town of Riverton is a key issue in the air-quality case.
In the Nebraska case, while the court unanimously ruled that the reservation in question had not been “diminished” and still had its original boundaries, the decision sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether a century or more of tribal failure to assert jurisdiction over all the original territory may invalidate the new liquor law.
According to the EPA, its December 2013 decision to give the WRIR tribes “Treatment as a State” on air quality issues will allow the WRIR tribes to receive more grants under the Clean Air Act, and get notifications of air permits that may affect their airshed. It will also allow the tribes to participate in air quality commissions and the development of risk-management plans. The EPA decision stressed that TAS does not give the tribes regulatory authority.
The Wyoming attorney general’s office, and the city of Riverton, have raised concerns that if the EPA decision on reservation boundaries is upheld, the tribes could assert jurisdiction over a wide variety of issues. The state is challenging the EPA decision in the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Opinions at the tribal offices and the Wyoming attorney general’s offices are likely to differ dramatically on the significance of the new high court decision, Nebraska v. Parker in their dispute.
Here are links to the Supreme Court opinion, and to two different descriptions of the ruling.
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