Kalispel Tribe wins Class I air designation

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the airshed redesignation of the Kalispel Indian Reservation from Class II to Class I under the Clean Air Act.

The reservation, located on 4,557 acres near Usk, Wash., will now be protected under the strictest-possible federal air quality designation. The Kalispel Tribe requested the redesignation in 2017 and the EPA approved that request July 19. The new air classification will officially come into effect Monday, Aug. 19.

This comes after Bonner County commissioners sent a letter to the EPA in December 2018 voicing opposition to the proposed redesignation. While their aversion lay partially with the potential limiting of future industrial development, commissioners also argued that the tribe should have consulted with nearby Idaho counties before filing the Class I request.

The meeting in December drew several area residents whose opposition to the proposed PacWest smelter in Newport fueled their support for the airshed redesignation. Commissioner Jeff Connolly urged attendees to stay focused on the task at hand — drafting a letter to the EPA — and alleged it had “absolutely nothing to do with the smelter.”

“The two are very integrated and combined — you can’t really have one without the other,” Bonner County resident and vocal anti-smelter activist Elizabeth Iha said at the time. “If there was no proposed smelter or purchase of land by a Canadian corporation, [the tribe] wouldn’t be asking for [a Class I Airshed designation].”

The Kalispel Tribe has since confirmed Iha’s comment.

“It wasn’t until the PacWest facility was sprung on us in August of 2016 that we had ever once worried about our air quality from a pollution perspective,” Deane Osterman, executive director of the Kalispel Natural Resources Department, told the Inlander earlier in July. “We want reasonable assurances that protection of our fundamental ‘qualities’ — air quality, water quality and environmental quality — is sufficient enough to not be threatening to our community’s health. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

The Class I designation does not prevent future or affect current industry, but it does limit the amount of pollutants allowed in the airshed. According to the EPA, the difference between Class I and Class II varies by pollutant. For instance, the allowable levels for some pollutants decrease by a quarter when the airshed is made Class I. For other pollutants, like sulfer dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, Class I regulations reduce acceptable levels to between 1/10th and 1/20th of the limits allowed under Class II designation.

If air deterioration reaches an unacceptable level, larger polluters in the region will be expected to make changes.

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