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News >  Idaho

Delegation from tribe visits D.C. over EPA changes

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Building is shown in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Building is shown in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
By Tom Holm Lewiston Tribune

The Nez Perce Tribe sent a delegation from its governing body to Washington, D.C., to discuss Idaho’s proposal to oversee water pollution.

Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee members Shannon Wheeler, Art Broncheau, McCoy Oatman, Casey Mitchell and Chantel Eastman, along with other staff members, visited the nation’s capital July 25-27 and met with Environmental Protection Agency officials and other government representatives.

Idaho took control of overseeing water pollution in the state under an agreement with the EPA beginning July 1. Since the passing of the Clean Water Act, the EPA was in charge of setting federal rules on permissible pollution discharge quantities into waterways. The rules required industries to acquire permits for discharging chemicals and other pollutants into surface waters that meet federal standards. Idaho can now self-govern since it met all federal guidelines, but the EPA will still oversee Idaho’s water programs.

A tribe news release says NPTEC chairman Wheeler met with EPA leadership to voice concerns over the administration’s streak of deregulation. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was on a path of stripping the previous administration’s rules protecting natural resources, something the current administrator, Andrew Wheeler, appears poised to continue. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, on Thursday proposed a rollback of fuel efficiency requirements, also highlighting California specifically as barred from advancing stricter vehicle emission standards.

Shannon Wheeler said in a news release that water protection is pivotal for the tribe’s fishing treaty rights and Idaho’s moves will impede tribal members from harvesting fish outside of the reservation boundaries.

“Because fish are vital to the Tribe’s culture and identity, the NPTEC sent a six-member delegation to consult directly with the EPA to ensure the tribe’s voice is heard by the highest officials involved in the review of Idaho’s proposal,” Shannon Wheeler said.

NPTEC members also met with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to discuss updating drinking water infrastructure in Lapwai. The release said the BIA sent engineers to look at the drinking water system shortly after the delegation returned from Washington.

Delegation members met with Department of Energy officials to discuss increasing the tribe’s involvement in the cleanup of the decommissioned nuclear production Hanford Site. The delegation pressed for increased long-term involvement to help clean up the site where millions of gallons of radioactive waste is stored and significant leakage has been reported over the years.

Among the multiple meetings with government agencies, the release highlighted the delegation’s time with the Department of Justice to seek more funding for law enforcement and social programs on the reservation. The release said since the meetup the tribe has sought additional grant funding, and regional programs are ready to take advantage of the funding.

“The NPTEC was also able to move the Tribe’s priorities forward in other areas by meeting face to face with federal officials from so many other agencies,” Shannon Wheeler said in the news release. “I appreciate the hard work and diplomacy of the NTPEC and am proud of how the tribe was represented in Washington, D.C.”

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