Navajo official calls on Congress to assist with Gold King Mine spill

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
Navajo Nation Washington Office
202-682-7390
jking@nnwo.org

For Immediate Release

Navajo official calls on Congress to assist with Gold King Mine spill

WASHINGTON—Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency executive director Dr. Donald Benn called on Congress to provide the Navajo Nation with assistance in addressing the recent Gold King Mine spill before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

This is the first of four hearings on the spill and one of three where the Navajo Nation will provide testimony. Congress has set the additional three hearings for the week of Sept. 14.

On August 5, the U.S. EPA caused a massive release of toxic contaminants from the Gold King Mine in Colorado. The toxic sludge flowed into the San Juan River and through 215 miles of the Navajo Nation’s territory in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. 

“The U.S. EPA delayed notification of the spill to the Navajo Nation. The Nation was not informed of the release until August 6, a full day after the spill, and not even by the U.S. EPA,” said Dr. Benn. 

“The EPA also demonstrated a complete lack of transparency. The initial U.S. EPA warnings served to downplay the magnitude of risk to human and animal health, and later reports by USEPA were incomplete,” said Dr. Benn. 

The Navajo Nation expressed concern for the EPA’s handing out and encouraging members of the Navajo Nation to fill out their Standard Form 95 to expedite settlement of their claims.

“These instances have led to a culture of distrust by the Navajo Nation towards U.S. EPA, both among our farmers and our leadership,” said Dr. Benn.

While Dr. Benn emphasized four main devastating areas as a result of the spill, he also underscored that all of the impacts are not yet known.

“First, families had the immediate impact of the additional cost of water delivery and other expenses and yet despite this effort, they saw their crops dying each day. Second, the loss of crops and replacement of those crops, their seeds and feed for livestock and other expenses will trigger a cycle of long term economic losses for a nation that already has a 42 percent unemployment rate. Third, the long-term health effects of the spill are unknown and not fully understood. And fourth, the Navajo Nation’s cultural and spiritual impacts are felt most pointedly in the disruption of our cultural principle of hozho, which encompasses beauty, order, and harmony,” said Dr. Benn.

“The Navajo Nation is need of resources to conduct its own water, sediment, and soil monitoring, and authority for the Navajo Nation EPA to do the necessary work,” continued Dr. Benn. “We need relief for these impacts by continued delivery of water and the hay to impacted ranchers. The U.S. EPA should also establish a relief fund for individual ranchers and farmers. We also need true emergency response coordination with FEMA.”

“We propose to conduct these duties under the Navajo Nation, as opposed to relying upon the U.S. EPA. We will require an on-site lab, and additional staffing to manage the sampling and lab performance,” said Dr. Benn.

“We need assistance to create redundant and auxiliary water supplies and reservoirs to guard against future contamination. We will require funding, assistance and resources to monitor, study and address the long-term health and environmental impacts of the spill,” said Dr. Benn.

Due to U.S. EPA’s conflict of interest, the Navajo Nation is seeking a fair and independent assessment of the U.S. EPA’s role in the spill, and the designation of a different lead agency.

“No other environmental bad actor would be given leeway to investigate itself and determine to what extent it will be held accountable. We believe another agency, such as FEMA, should take the lead on the response, and an independent body should conduct the investigation,” added Dr. Benn.

Dr. Benn’s written testimony also mentions the Navajo Nation’s history with mining and federal relations.

“The inadequate response from the U.S. EPA and FEMA, and the federal government in general is not an unprecedented single event for the Navajo people. Instead, it is yet another instance of our people being less than a priority to the federal government. This experience most vividly calls back memories of our experience with uranium. There too our people were not consulted or compensated for damaged caused by mines, and there too we were not warned of the risks related to the threats from mines,” stated Dr. Benn.

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