Air Authority Stays Out of Tribe's Sky



Yakima, WA - The Yakima Regional Clean Air Authority won't try to implement its rules within the Yakama Nation, the agency's board decided this week.

The switch reverses the authority's strongly held position that enforcement officers could issue tickets and register major pollution sources for activities on deeded land within the reservation, including the cities of Toppenish and Wapato.

Board members had publicly stated several times in the past year that their staff should continue their reservation work, even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintained that it has sole jurisdiction on the reservation.

Clean Air Authority director Les Ornelas said the board changed its mind to reduce friction and confusion over the issue.

"It just started to go down a path that looked like it might get nasty," Ornelas said Thursday.

"We would rather not damage our neighbors," he added.

The Environmental Protection Agency and at least one company representative said the switch pleased them. A tribal official declined to comment.

The Clean Air Authority had recently asked a few major companies on the reservation including Washington Beef, Amtech and Jeld-Wyn to register with it or provide emissions data for potential registration.

Amtech, for one, had requested operating approval from EPA for its Wapato plant. The company produces reinforced fiberglass products such as spas.

"We questioned it because we felt like we were caught in the middle," Amtech environmental manager Eleanor Hargrave said Thursday.

The EPA hopes to cooperate with the Yakama Nation and surrounding jurisdictions to improve air quality on the reservation, representative Regina Thompson said.

The EPA's Seattle office handles complaints. Thompson said the agency recognizes that the lack of local staffing leads to a slow response.

A specific rule for air quality enforcement on reservations is still being reviewed, Thompson said.

Federal law makes EPA responsible for air management within entire reservations. The law also allows EPA to delegate that authority to tribes.

Yakama leaders have said they are interested in assuming that responsibility an idea to which the authority and some local residents object.

Ornelas said the Clean Air Authority would continue to argue against EPA's reservation rules, but he conceded that the board's enforcement switch would weaken the authority's position.

The authority will still respond to requests for technical assistance from companies or others on the reservation, Ornelas said.


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