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Navajo Are ‘Still Suffering’ 9 Months After EPA Spill

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-caused disaster polluted the Navajo Nation’s water supply – a critical part of the community’s livelihood and spirituality – and critics say the agency abandoned the Native American victims in the aftermath.

The EPA spilled 880,000 pounds of dangerous metals, including toxic lead and arsenic, from Colorado’s Gold King Mine into the Animas and San Juan rivers Aug.5, 2015. Those rivers supply the Navajo with drinking water and irrigation to grow food.

“The U.S. EPA has avoided any real sense of accountability for its actions, even though it repeatedly and publicly claimed responsibility last fall,” Navajo President Russell Begaye will tell a Senate committee’s field hearing Friday.

The hearing on “Examining EPA’s Unacceptable Response to Indian Tribes” is being held in Phoenix before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The Navajo – a highly impoverished people with a 42 percent unemployment rate – are highly dependent on agriculture, and the spill devastated crops and farmers’ livelihoods, according to Begaye.

“Many have lost crucial sources of income and are still suffering,” he wrote.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates will tell the panel “nearly nine months have passed since the spill occurred and not one single individual farmer, livestock owner, or others affected by the spill have been compensated for their losses.”

Quick reimbursements are necessary, according to Begaye

“The farmers and ranchers have had to spend money they don’t have in a desperate attempt to salvage their crops and livestock,” he wrote. “The U.S. EPA has yet to fully compensate the Navajo Nation or individual Navajo people for the harms suffered as a result of the Gold King Mine spill.”

The EPA has to date provided $1.1 million for water and hay for the Navajo, agency Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus will tell the committee in her prepared testimony. (RELATED: EPA Boss Ignores Navajo Pleas For Help, Makes Speeches Instead)

“The EPA has also provided $157,000 in reimbursements to Navajo agencies for their response costs,” he continued. “We are currently reviewing additional costs incurred by the Navajo government.”

The money EPA awarded to the Navajo government was issued as a grant, rather than a reimbursement, which gives the agency more control over spending, according to Begaye, adding the funds account for less than 8 percent of what the spill has cost the nation to date.

Also, Begaye worries the water is still unsafe since storms stir contaminates settled in the bottom of the river.

The EPA has no plan to protect humans if contaminate levels spike as they are likely to do during periods of increased storm runoff into the rivers, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously revealed. (RELATED: Feds Say River They Polluted Is Safe, But Won’t Test Drinking Water)

Stanislaus will also tell the panel EPA recently proposed to designate Gold King and 47 other nearby Colorado mines a superfund site, but that decontamination may not begin for years or decades, TheDCNF reported.

But money and physical safety aren’t the only issues from the EPA disaster.

“The psychological trauma resulting from contamination to one of our most important deities should not be ignored or minimized,” Begaye wrote. “We deserve recognition from the agency … that the damage goes far beyond economic and environmental damage.”

Bates wrote: “The spill has contaminated or destroyed many of the essential elements of our religious practice, and desecrated a river that we have treated with reverence since time immemorial.” Navajo suicides have spiked since the spill, TheDCNF reported.

Begaye highlighted other EPA failures.

The agency’s reports on the spill were “riddled with conflicts of interest and information gaps” and neglected fault, according to Begaye. He also noted it took five months for the EPA to publicly release the first water sampling in late October, 2015.

President Barack Obama condemned Michigan officials for the water crisis in Flint, Mich., but has been silent on the EPA-caused Gold King Mine disaster.

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