Navajos To Sue EPA For Contaminating Their Water With Mine Waste

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Navajo Nation will file a lawsuit against the Obama administration for causing a massive mine spill that contaminated waters tribal members rely on for their livelihoods.

Navajo officials will announce Tuesday they are filing suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for breaching the Gold King Mine in Colorado last year, which resulted in more than 3 million gallons of mine wastewater contaminating drinking and agricultural water in tribal territory.

“Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez, Attorney General Ethel Branch, Delegate Tom Chee and others will make the announcement at the park by the bridge near the San Juan River,” according to an emailed release.

The San Juan River was hit with Gold King Mine waste in August 2015, shutting down water supplies for thousands across Navajo Nation. Mine waste also contaminated waterways in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo Nation has been considering filing suit against EPA for about a year, and now will be joining New Mexico in suing the agency for unleashing heavy metals into waterways. New Mexico also sued the state of Colorado for supposedly downplaying the dangers of the spill.

“The Gold King Mine release is the result of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price,” New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in June when announcing the state’s suit against Colorado.

In August 2015, EPA workers breached the Gold King Mine in order to stop it from leaking into the Animas River, but instead of solving the problem they made it worse. The mine mouth blew open and sent forth 3 million gallons of wastewater full of toxic metals, like arsenic and lead.

Republican lawmakers have criticized the EPA for not punishing or firing anyone involved with the mine spill. While the agency has not taken any disciplinary actions, the EPA inspector general’s office recently confirmed there’s an ongoing criminal investigation into the mine spill.

“New Mexicans rely on the Animas and San Juan Rivers for drinking water, ranching, farming, tourism and much more, so our communities must be compensated and protected from future health and safety risks,” he said.

Navajo Nation was one of the hardest hit areas. The tribe already suffers from high unemployment and is heavily reliant on the San Juan River for raising cattle and growing crops.

“Our suicides started like three weeks after the spill occurred,” Navajo President Russell Begaye told The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Ethan Barton in March after a spike in suicides hit the tribe.

Begaye couldn’t say “whether they’re directly related,” but said the polluted river “aggravated urges” of those already “vulnerable” to suicide.

Navajo Nation says EPA owes it $1 million for damages from the spill, but to date the EPA has only given the tribe $157,000 for costs incurred from the spill.

“I know we’ll only get a fraction of it,” Begaye said. “They’ll fight us for every penny. That’s how they operate. It’s an injustice to the Navajo nation, to the farmers and to the people who have been hurt, and it’s just wrong to treat our people in this manner.”

The EPA, however, says it’s spent $1.1 million responding to the spill to give Navajo farmers and ranchers hay and water needed to keep their businesses going.

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Tags : colorado environmental protection agency gold king mine navajo nation new mexico russell begaye
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