By Barrett Newkirk, November 6, 2013
Concerns over relaxed air pollution rules for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians Reservation appear to be heading to court.
CABAZON — Concerns over relaxed air pollution rules for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians Reservation appear to be heading to court.
The move from the South Coast Air Quality Management District comes in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision in September allowing heavier-polluting development on the reservation before ozone-offsetting requirements take effect.
The 35,000-acre reservation lies along Interstate 10 northwest and upwind from Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley communities, raising concerns that the relaxed requirements would lead to poorer air quality in the valley.
The governing board of the AQMD voted 11-0 on Friday to file a lawsuit against the EPA over its decision concerning the reservation. Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit was one of two board members absent for the vote.
The decision to take legal action arose “out of a concern that Indian tribes will establish what are essentially their own independent air districts and that higher polluting sources will locate on those Indian lands,” AQMD attorney Kurt Wiese said. “These sources concentrated on tribal lands could constitute pollution hot spots.”
He said higher emitters on the Morongo Reservation are “obviously going to affect air quality” in the district and specifically in the Coachella Valley.
Although the lawsuit had not been filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as of Tuesday, it is the only formal action available to AQMD, Wiese said. AQMD has until the end of the month to file its lawsuit.
Nahal Mogharabi, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said the agency was unable to comment on any ongoing litigation. The EPA has explained its decision regarding the Morongo Reservation as correcting a mistake made a decade ago that moved the tribal land into a more polluted planning area.
Michael Fisher, a spokesman for the Morongo Indians, said in October that the tribe’s status as a sovereign nation compelled it to seek a reversal of the EPA’s 2003 decision. Fisher said at the time there were no specific plans for developments on the reservation.
The reservation is home to the 27-story Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa, more than 400 homes, the Morongo’s cogeneration power facility, the Morongo Travel Center, Canyon Lanes Bowling Alley, restaurants and the Arrowhead Mountain Springs Water Bottling Plant.