Bills blasting EPA advance in Wyoming legislature
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Two bills expressing the displeasure of Wyoming lawmakers with what many of them see as an attack on coal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved a step forward on Monday.
The House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee advanced a joint resolution that would call on Congress to require the EPA to respect the state's primacy in setting guidelines to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
The committee also endorsed another bill that would authorize Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael to take legal action against the EPA if he believes the federal agency is exceeding its authority.
Marion Loomis, head of the Wyoming Mining Association, testified in favor of both bills.
“I think it just gives the state one more arrow in the quiver and it would take a little pressure off our Department of Environmental Quality to challenge some of these rules,'' Loomis said.
Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state and has been facing off against the EPA on a range of issues regarding federal air quality regulations as it sees its coal production dwindle.
Monday's committee hearing came as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a challenge from industry groups and some other Republican-led states attacking the EPA's decision to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
Wyoming wasn't a party to the case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court but was among several states on an amicus brief supporting the challengers.
Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, spoke for both bills at Monday's committee hearing. As an example of the EPA seeking to expand its reach in the state, he said the agency has been trying to assert regulatory authority over small streams in the state by claiming that they're navigable waters.
“It's really an end-run to control all our waters,'' Bebout said. ``Coal is under attack, now they're looking at our water.''
Todd Parfitt, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, told the committee that many of his agency's programs are primacy programs, in which the EPA delegates authority to the state. He said it's important that the state have a solid relationship with the federal agency.
“There are a significant number of new rules coming out of EPA on an annual basis,'' Parfitt said. “Most of those are in air quality, and a lot of the things that come out of EPA do have impact to the state. So we watch those very carefully and sometimes we have concerns.''
Wyoming sided with Texas in a lawsuit filed last year against the EPA over federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Wyoming also appears headed toward another lawsuit with the federal agency over regulations the EPA says are intended to cut regional haze.
Wyoming filed notice of intent to sue EPA in December over the federal agency's failure to take action on a state plan for air quality regulation.
And Wyoming also is in court appealing a recent EPA decision that seeks to define the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming in the context of allowing the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to be treated essentially as separate states for purposes of air quality regulations.
Richard Garrett, energy policy analyst with Wyoming Outdoor Council, said he didn't see the need for the bill. “I think we're doing a good job in the state,'' he said.
Garrett said there's a benefit to lowering CO2 emissions both from an environmental and security point of view. “January 2014 was the 347th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average,'' he said. “So global climate change is in fact reality.''
Facing with sagging domestic demand for coal in the face of stricter federal air quality standards, Wyoming is pinning its hopes on exporting coal to Asia. However, the state has faced opposition from some in the Northwest who are concerned about dust and noise from coal trains.
The budget bill that's advancing in Wyoming's legislative session would put up $500,000 to cover legal expenses if the state has to sue anyone — including possibly other states — to get access to deep water ports in the Northwest.
Wyoming's coal production has slipped from more than 430 million tons in 2011 to 385 million tons last year, according to a recent report from the state's Consensus Revenue Estimating Group.
Blackfeet TANF director guilty of embezzlement
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — The former director of a federally funded aid program on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation has pleaded guilty to embezzling almost $300,000 from the program to support her gambling addiction.
Sandra Marie Sanderville of Browning pleaded guilty Thursday to embezzlement and fraud charges during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Keith Strong in Great Falls. A sentencing date has not been set, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Sanderville, 58, was director of the tribe's Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program from 2006 to 2010, during which the program received $12 million in federal funding.
Sanderville admitted she used various schemes to make overpayments to families, who then provided her with a cash kickback. Her scheme involved 16 to 20 program beneficiaries, including some who were ineligible for payments, court records said.
Prosecutors said Sanderville overpaid some recipients by adding children or grandchildren to the payment calculations, some real and others fabricated. She also failed to remove people from accounts when she knew they no longer lived in the household, court records said.
When the tribe began investigating the missing money, Sanderville tried to delete or destroy the files related to the fraudulent scheme. A backup computer file allowed investigators to re-create those transactions.
Sanderville told investigators she was gambling hundreds of dollars a week.
Indian Affairs charman: Education key for tribes
CROW AGENCY, Mont. (AP) — The new chairman of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee said Wednesday he plans to use the post to target wasteful spending, improve educational opportunities for Native Americans and promote job development on reservations.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester outlined his agenda for the committee that oversees relations with the nation's 566 recognized tribes during a visit to the Crow Indian Reservation with fellow Democrat Sen. John Walsh.
After a breakfast meeting with tribal leaders, the pair toured a Head Start education center and later danced with preschoolers around a drum circle.
Crow leaders showed the lawmakers cracks in the ceiling at the preschool and took them to the furnace room where a boiler dating to the 1960s was held together with vise grips to keep it running.
Tester said he was determined to address decades of dysfunction in how the government deals with tribes. He said excessive administrative costs incurred by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and other agencies have drained money from crucial programs including health care and education.
“This is about making sure those dollars that are allocated go to the intended purpose. If there's waste, eliminate it. And if it means eliminating jobs, then eliminate the jobs,'' he said.
Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said problems with the government's treatment of tribes stem largely from outdated laws and regulations that make Native Americans subservient to federal agencies.
That started to change in recent years — with rules giving tribes more power over their land and property _ but further improvements are needed, Cladoosby said.
Tester said too many bureaucratic roadblocks hinder tribes' attempts to become self-reliant, such as the Crow tribe's efforts to expand coal mining on the southeastern Montana reservation.
However, Tester added that he would tread carefully to avoid infringing on the sovereignty of West Coast tribes opposed to coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon.
The proposed terminals are key to the coal industry's aspirations to ship more of the fuel overseas from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, in part to make up for flagging domestic demand. Tribes on the West Coast have raised concerns about potential environmental impacts of the shipping.
“I cannot go in and tell another tribe that we're going to respect the Crow's sovereignty but we're not going to respect your sovereignty,'' Tester said. “That's a very dangerous position to put yourself in.''
Despite limits on what the senator can deliver for his home state, Crow leaders said they were pleased to have someone familiar with their concerns assume the influential post of committee chairman.
Crow Secretary A.J. Not Afraid said tribes in Montana and elsewhere on the Great Plains have different needs than tribes in other parts of the country that are closer to population centers and able to bring in significant revenue through gambling.
Those opportunities don't exist for the Crow, Not Afraid said.
Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said Tester understands the differences.
“He gets it,'' Old Coyote said. “He understands our plight and what we're fighting for.''