IGNACIO, COLO. — Colorado's Southern Ute Indian tribe is taking steps to assert its own control over local pollution sources within reservation boundaries.

The tribe announced earlier this month it finished drafting regulations to implement a Reservation Air Code for the Southern Ute Reservation. Members of the tribe's Air Quality Program staff now await a response from the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Washington, D.C., office, which administers the operating permit the Utes must have to implement their new regulations.

The Reservation Air Code was adopted by the Southern Ute Tribal Council in February, which then recommended it to the state of Colorado for adoption.

It will allow the tribe, administration permit in hand, to enforce the Title V pollutions sources through what's called a Title V program for air quality, which regulates major point source pollution.

Title V of EPA's Clean Air Act are defined as natural gas plants or compressor stations having the potential to emit 10 tons per year of a single hazardous air pollutant, 25 tons per year of combined hazardous air pollutants or 100 tons per year of any regulated air pollutant.

"Once approved by EPA, the permitting program will be the first of several air pollution control programs that will be part of a Reservation Air Program created through the joint efforts of the Tribe and State of Colorado," stated a press release from the tribe.

James Temte, the Ute tribe's Air Quality Program manager, said "there are 43 of them within our reservation boundaries."

The Ute's land is strewn with drilling sites from which producers harvest coalbed methane, Temte said. "We have a fair amount of drilling."

The 43 sources of pollution include compressors and natural gas plants.

The air code is 10 years in the making and the result of five Air Quality Program staffers' work with EPA's Region 8 office in Denver. Temte said the federal agency's chronic staffing issues and distance from the Utes' land enabled it to visit the area near Ignacio, Colo., only once a year.

"We will have local control over local sources. ... We know what's out there and who's polluting because we're out there every day," Temte said. "EPA has so much to deal with."

Agreed Sam Maynes, the tribe's general counsel. "We will have much more local control, control over the programs and the administration and enforcement."

Maynes' involvement with air quality issues reaches back more than 15 years.

"We have good operators on the reservation," he said. "We have good air quality, but we want to keep it and we want to develop responsibly."

The 1,400-member Southern Ute tribe wanted a single program that oversaw point-source pollution on the area's fee land a tribal land. The Utes' land is a checkerboarded reservation, where land ownership varies from section to section.

Assuming the tribe receives its EPA Title V program administration permit without hitch, members of the Tribal Air Quality Program will continue its work by creating a plan to regulate minor-point sources of air pollution in the same area.

The minor-point source pollution plan also would be incorporated into the tribe's Reservation Air Code.

Cornelia de Bruin: cdebruin@daily-times.com