American Elephants

The Navajo Nation, Says Russell Begaye, Is Used to Historical Mistreatment by the Federal Government by The Elephant's Child


Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation, has spoken out about the investigation into the Gold King Mine spill. Investigators from the Department of Interior concluded that the EPA could have prevented the blowout Gold King Mine Spill if waters inside the mine had been checked before work began on the abandoned mine. The EPA had been warned that mine and others in the area posed a threat.

In 2005, after a National Priorities List assessment, the study confirmed for the second time that the mine should qualify as a Superfund site. The EPA and other responsible parties took no action.

The EPA spill sent three million gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas and San Juan rivers. Mr. Begaye charged:

The Navajo Nation is used to historical mistreatment by agencies of the federal government, but the inadequate and delayed response to the contamination of our rivers and the utter lack of accountability takes that sentiment to a whole new level. When that threat became reality, they waited nearly two days to inform the Nation that a spill had occurred, then waited six full days to take responsibility and apologize.

The EPA’s eventual “response” was to provide our communities with tanks of impure water for our livestock and crops. And now, FEMA is denying our request for a declared state of emergency. Our people have suffered immeasurably due to the reckless actions of the EPA and other responsible parties (who have yet to be held accountable), and the government’s failed response to this crisis only adds insult to injury. Our irrigation systems are still shut down, and our analysis shows that the water is not yet safe for consumption or crop irrigation.

The Navajo Nation’s Environmental Protection Agency has found lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium, cadmium and beryllium, contaminants known to be toxic to humans and animals, still present in our rivers. Our people and our land are devastated. With high unemployment on the Navajo Nation and almost all Navajo families relying on subsistence farming, our lack of access to clean water to grow our crops is catastrophic.

The EPA, as is noted by yesterday’s op-ed from Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator, is in pure self-defense mode. The Navajo Nation needs the rivers cleaned up and clean, safe water supplies for crops and livestock. Not an unreasonable request.

The Interior Department may have found that the EPA should have done things differently, but nothing much will happen. The rivers will eventually wash out the toxic sludge. Your federal government at work. I’m with the Navajo Nation on this one.



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