Navajos Distrustful OF EPA Promises On Toxic Mine Spill

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Navajo Nation is furious with the EPA, not just because the agency accidentally spilled three million gallons of toxic mine waste in the region, but because the agency is allegedly trying to get tribal members to waive rights to future compensation for damages incurred by the toxic spill.

“The federal government is asking our people to waive their future rights because they know without the waiver they will be paying millions to our people,” Navajo President Russell Begaye told “This is simple; the feds are protecting themselves at the expense of the Navajo people and it is outrageous.”

EPA officials have reportedly been distributing claims forms which tribal members can sign to get compensation for damages incurred by the mine waste spill in the Animas River. By signing the claim form, tribal members would agree to a “FULL SATISFACTION AND FINAL SETTLEMENT” of damages, injuries and deaths due to the spill.

Begaye argues that signing the form would rob Navajos of any claims to future damages. Begaye has already promised to sue the Obama administration over the spill, which has sent a long plume of toxic wastewater hundreds of miles through Colorado and New Mexico.

“This is unacceptable,” Begaye said, adding that Navajo Nations “will not settle for pennies.”

Now, the bright orange toxic plume is visible in the San Juan River, two-thirds of which travels through Navajo lands before reaching Lake Powell, Utah. The spill could take decades to clean up.

“This is a huge issue,” Begaye told The Associated Press. “This river, the San Juan, is our lifeline, not only in a spiritual sense but also it’s an economic base that sustains the people that live along the river.

“When EPA is saying to me it’s going to take decades to clean this up, that is how long uncertainty will exist as we drink the water, as we farm the land, as we put our livestock out there near the river,” Begaye said. “That is just, to me, a disaster of a huge proportion.”

EPA Chief Administrator Gina McCarthy has taken responsibility for the spill at Colorado’s Gold King Mine, and has promised to clean up the mess and get the local economies up and running again.

“I am absolutely, deeply sorry that this ever happened,” McCarthy said at an event in Washington, D.C.

The agency has a website which is continually being updated as water quality testing and efforts on the ground continue. Colorado and New Mexico have declared a state of emergency and dedicated funding to dealing with the spill.

Despite the EPA’s assurances, Begaye and others are urging tribal members to hold off on signing any forms distributed by the federal government.

“Think twice before you sign this form, we must hold U.S. EPA fully accountable for their negligence,” said Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez.

The EPA did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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