Riverton hospital moves to enter EPA tribal boundary dispute

Riverton hospital moves to enter EPA tribal boundary dispute

By Ben Neary, Associated Press

Riverton Memorial Hospital maintains that a recent medical malpractice case filed against it in tribal court on the Wind River Indian Reservation underscores the problems the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created in its recent decision that the city of Riverton and surrounding lands remain legally Indian Country.

Tribal spokesmen, however, say the tribal court has handled claims against the hospital for years and question why it would raise jurisdictional questions now.

The EPA’s 2013 decision that Riverton and more than 1 million acres of surrounding land remain part of the Wind River Indian Reservation came in response to a joint application from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to treat their joint Wind River Indian Reservation essentially as a separate state for purposes of administering the federal Clean Air Act.

The hospital on Wednesday asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow it to file a friend-of-the-court brief. The hospital wants to join the state of Wyoming, the City of Riverton, Fremont County and others in fighting the EPA ruling.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead maintains Congress extinguished the land’s reservation status 100 years ago when it opened the area to settlement by non-Indians.

In protesting the EPA decision, Mead and other Wyoming officials have said that a court ruling establishing Riverton remains legally on the reservation would affect provision of state services, including law enforcement protection, to non-Indian residents there.

In the malpractice case pending in tribal court, Riverton lawyer John Vincent represents Cody Armajo, a Northern Arapaho woman. The lawsuit alleges she was taken to the hospital in February 2013 complaining of an injury to her eye but that a doctor there examined her and found nothing much wrong.

The lawsuit states that Armajo was ultimately transported to jail in Lander and jail personnel took her to another hospital when she continued to complain of pain. Doctors there determined she had been shot in the eye and a bullet lodged in her head.

The Riverton hospital’s request to dismiss Armajo’s case is pending in tribal court. The hospital’s arguments filed with the federal court this week state that tribal court is a quagmire where rules and the law are ill-defined.

“This is the impact of the EPA’s decision: a non-Indian business has been hailed into tribal court,” the hospital’s lawyers wrote to the appeals court. “The expansion of the tribes’ jurisdiction over an entire city has already begun to have negative consequences on the city’s businesses.”

Patrick J. Murphy, a Casper lawyer representing the hospital, didn’t immediately return a telephone call to his office on Thursday seeking comment.

Vincent, a former mayor of Riverton, said Thursday that the tribal court had handled medical malpractice claims against the hospital before the EPA ruling. “I don’t know all of a sudden why this case would stir the controversy up,” he said.

The appeals court gave other parties including the tribes until June 8 to file a response to the hospital’s request to enter the case. Mark Howell, spokesman for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, said Thursday the tribe would oppose the hospital’s request.

Richard Brannan, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Council, issued a statement Thursday saying the Riverton Hospital receives millions of dollars in funding through the Indian Health Service each year for treatment of tribal members.

“This is not the first time that they’ve had to manage claims for medical negligence in tribal court,” Brannan said. He said the Council is confident the hospital will have a fair opportunity to present all its defenses.

Ronald Oldman, a spokesman for the tribe, issued a statement saying the tribe is actively monitoring Armajo’s case.

“A tribal member was walking down the street in Riverton. She was shot at random by an unknown gunman, and taken to the Riverton hospital with a bullet hole in her head,” Oldman said. “Hospital staff failed to notice the gunshot wound and discharged her.”

Wyoming tribe seeks to exclude Andrew Yellowbear from reservation boundary case

By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

The Northern Arapaho Tribe is seeking to exclude one of its members from participating in a lawsuit over the boundary of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Andrew Yellowbear, Jr., is serving a life sentence in state prison in connection with the 2004 murder of his young daughter in Riverton.

State and federal courts have rejected Yellowbear’s claim that the state lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him on the grounds that Riverton remained Indian County. He’s seeking to get involved in the current boundary dispute in yet another attempt to get his conviction overturned.

A federal appeals court in Denver is hearing the state of Wyoming’s appeal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that more than 1 million acres around Riverton remain legally “Indian Country.”

The EPA recently determined that a 1905 act of Congress that opened reservation lands to settlement by non-Indians didn’t serve to remove the land’s legal status as Indian Country. The Northern Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe share the reservation in central Wyoming.

Aided by Diane Courselle, a law professor at the University of Wyoming, Yellowbear recently filed papers seeking to file a “friend of the court” brief in the current boundary dispute.

Courselle, in her proposed brief in the case, says the boundary issue is, “crucial to the determination of whether Wyoming had jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Yellowbear or whether the United States has exclusive jurisdiction.”

The EPA addressed the boundary issue in approving an application from the tribes to treat the reservation similarly to a state in terms of consulting with them about air quality issues. Wyoming, as well as Riverton and Fremont County, are opposing the federal agency’s decision, saying it would have drastic effects on taxation and provision of government services in the disputed area.

Although Yellowbear seeks to side with the tribes’ position that the disputed land remains in the reservation, both tribes filed notice that they oppose his involvement. The Northern Arapaho Tribe filed a brief and Riverton and Fremont County filed a joint brief on Friday spelling out their opposition to his involvement.

“We do not want our legitimate efforts to protect our reservation boundaries to be aligned with someone who does not have the tribe’s best interests at heart and is simply trying to get out of jail,” said Darrell O’Neal, a member of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, in a statement.

Dean Goggles, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, issued a statement saying that Yellowbear “is just muddying the waters and offers not new facts or viewpoints.”

Efforts to reach Courselle were unsuccessful Friday. Efforts to reach a lawyer for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe were also unsuccessful.

In their briefs, the Northern Arapaho, Riverton and Fremont County state that federal law is clear that Yellowbear’s state court conviction would stand even if the courts rule that Riverton remains Indian Country.

As a state prisoner, Yellowbear has filed several legal challenges seeking access to Native American religious materials and facilities. The American Civil Liberties Union represented Yellowbear in a 2008 federal lawsuit against the Wyoming Department of Corrections that secured his right to have eagle feathers in prison.

EPA Proposes Standards For Cleaner Burning Wood Stoves

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new standards that would require cleaner burning wood stoves. | credit: EPA/Flickr
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new standards that would require cleaner burning wood stoves. | credit: EPA/Flickr

By Amelia Templeton, Earth Fix

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed stricter air emissions standards for wood stoves. It also plans to regulate, for the first time, emissions from pellet stoves, fireplace inserts and other wood burning devices.

The EPA proposal comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Oregon and six other states. They alleged that the EPA’s failure to update manufacturing standards for wood stoves since 1988 violated the Clean Air Act and left rural residents at risk of health and breathing problems.

Craig Kenworthy, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, said in the short term the EPA’s proposed rule would in effect catch the rest of the country up to the Northwest, where state emissions standards require new stoves to emit no more than 4.5 grams of particulates per hour.

“The technology and the ability of companies to make cleaner devices has made leaps and bounds. I think Oregon and Washington have proved that the first EPA standard is achievable. We’ve had a market, and had manufacturers meeting that market,” Kenworthy said.

Over a five-year period, the EPA has proposed ramping up its standards, eventually requiring new stoves to emit no more than 1.3 grams of particle pollution per hour. The fine particles of pollution in wood smoke have been linked to asthma, respiratory problems, heart attack, cancer and premature deaths. Several cities in the Northwest including Tacoma, Wash., Oak Ridge Ore. and Klamath Falls, Ore. have struggled to meet national air quality standards due to wood stove and fireplace smoke. In Oregon, homeowners are required to remove old wood stoves before selling their home and Washington bans the sale of older models.

But tightening standards for new stoves is also an important part of tackling wood smoke pollution in growing communities, Kenworthy said.

“As growth occurs in these communities, over time even the cleaner devices could overwhelm the gains we’re making in removing the older devices.”

Wood stove manufacturers located in the Northwest said they welcome the new proposed standards and have invested heavily in research and development of clean-burning technology. One of the largest wood stove builders in the country, Travis Industries, is located in Mukilteo, Wash. and has built a reputation for designing high efficiency clean-burning stoves.

Last year, Travis was selected to compete in a “Wood Stove Decathlon” that highlighted the best stove designs from around the world.

The Cape Cod

Travis’s Cape Cod stove emits less than a half-gram of particulates per hour, making it the cleanest-burning EPA certified wood stove.

Perry Ranes, the national sales manger for Travis, said the stove uses two engineering techniques to achieve its emissions reductions: a system that preheats the stove’s air, creating a hotter fire that combusts the wood more completely, and a catalytic combustor that burns up any leftover soot particles. The real trick, Ranes said, is a design that’s efficient and also looks good.

“The secret to all of this is not only designing something that the average individual can use, but at the same time is something that’s eye-appealing that you’d really like to have in your home,” Ranes said.

The EPA estimates the health and economic benefits of the proposed standards at $1.8 to $2.4 billion annually. 
The agency is taking comments on the proposed rule for 90 days and expects to issue a final rule in 2015.