Sen. [crscore]John McCain[/crscore] slammed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for neglecting people of the Navajo Nation after polluting their drinking water and for dodging accountability at a congressional hearing Friday.
The Arizona Republican cited a Daily Caller News Foundation article that first reported the Department of the Interior (DOI) was heavily involved with EPA work at the Gold King Mine — where the environmental agency accidentally spilled 880,000 pounds of dangerous metals, including toxic lead and arsenic, into two western rivers.
The EPA chose DOI to conduct an independent review of how the disaster happened, despite its involvement with activities connected with the mine.
“The federal department conducting the investigation might not have been so independent,” McCain said, citing TheDCNF, during a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing in Phoenix. He also highlighted internal EPA discussions that suggested the Army Corps of Engineers was a better fit to review the spill’s technical causes.
The hearing was titled “Examining EPA’s Unacceptable Response to Indian Tribes.” The DOI was selected after extensive discussions, EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus told the committee, but didn’t explain why the department was a better choice than the Army Corps.
An official from the Army Corps ultimately peer-reviewed DOI’s report on the accident and demanded that his criticisms of the investigation’s failure to assign blame be included. (EXCLUSIVE: Gold King Mine Investigators Secretly Ordered To ‘Stay Clear’ Of EPA’s Negligence)
The EPA also didn’t conduct pressure testing at Gold King Mine, which would have warned the agency that digging at the site was dangerous, McCain pointed out. (RELATED: Here Are EPA’s Mistakes That Poisoned Western Rivers)
EPA officials “could not conclude” whether pressure testing was possible because of the “geology and geography of the site conditions,” Stanislaus said.
McCain and committee Chairman [crscore]John Barrasso[/crscore] also criticized the EPA for mostly ignoring the Navajo – an already impoverished people who were heavily affected by the spill.
“The EPA has failed on many occasions to meet its obligations to Native American tribes,” McCain said. “I’d like to once again express my deep disappointment in the EPA’s refusal to send a representative to this field hearing – despite its direct role in the Gold King Mine disaster on Navajo Nation.” (RELATED: Lawmakers Ruin EPA Chief’s Earth Day With Plans For A Subpoena)
Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, called the EPA’s refusal “disrespectful.”
The EPA hasn’t compensated a single Navajo farmer for damages from the agency-caused disaster, Navajo Nation elected officials testified. Reimbursements the EPA have provided to the Native American government have been minuscule, despite agency promises.
“It’s almost like we have big thunder on the Navajo Nation, but no rain,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told the panel. “Big promises … but the farmers have yet to be compensated.”
McCain also noted that the EPA has failed to live up to its promises to hold itself accountable.
“Nobody had been fired at EPA for the disaster,” he said. “No criminal charges have been referred to the Justice Department.”
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