Navajo Nation sues Environmental Protection Agency for mine spill

The scene of the spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado. Photo from Environmental Protection Agency

The Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency and several private companies in connection with the Gold King Mine disaster that sent millions of gallons of toxic waste into the water system.

The tribe was hit hard by the August 2015 spill, which occurred at an abandoned mine in Colorado. Farmers and ranchers lost crops and livestock because they weren't able to access water from the San Juan River due to high levels of dangerous chemicals.

The Obama administration has taken responsibility for the incident but Navajo President Russell Begaye said the response hasn't been sufficient. The lawsuit seeks a full cleanup of the affected areas and compensation for losses suffered on the reservation.

"President Obama, where are you?" Begaye said at a press conference held on the banks of the river on Tuesday. "We want you -- as the president of the entire nation -- to step up and say, 'Navajo Nation, I'm sorry.'"

The complaint was filed in federal court in New Mexico. It names the EPA, two contracting companies, four mining companies and others as defendants.

The lawsuit comes as the EPA acknowledges that a "criminal investigation" has been opened in connection with the spill. Key members of Congress have been critical of the administration's response to the disaster and are supporting the tribe's call for accountability.

"The Navajo Nation has every reason to sue the EPA for its role in devastating hundreds of Navajo farms following the Gold King Mine disaster," Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said in a statement. "It’s been one year since the spill and tribal members are still reeling from the economic and environmental damage, including lingering questions about sediment quality. The Navajo people paid a high price for the EPA’s mishandling of the Gold King Mine disaster and they deserve justice.”

"The Gold King Mine spill was catastrophic for the Navajo people. Not only was it an environmental and economic disaster, it was a failure by the EPA on several fronts," Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona) said in a statement. "First, the agency failed to respond swiftly and transparently. It failed to immediately engage the tribal government. And it failed to fully address the disaster’s short- and long-term burdens on the tribe.

McCain and Kirkpatrick participated in a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs field hearing on the disaster in Arizona in April. The pair are locked in a battle for the U.S. Senate seat held by McCain.

"The spill was an accident, but the EPA made several serious mistakes, and the Navajo Nation has every right to pursue its claims for damages in court. This was not a natural disaster, and the communities that were harmed by the toxic spill deserve compensation," said Sen Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) in a statement. He's also running for re-election.

Read More on the Story:
Navajo Nation sues EPA for Gold King Mine spill (The Farmington Daily-Times 8/17)
Navajo Nation Sues E.P.A. in Poisoning of a Colorado River (The New York Times 8/17)
First on CNN: Navajo Nation sues EPA over toxic mine spill (CNN 8/17)
The Navajo, the EPA, and the Accident That Turned a River Orange (The Atlantic 8/16)
Navajo Nation sues feds over massive 2015 mine waste spill (AP 8/16)
Navajo Nation Sues EPA Over Metal Sludge From Colorado Mine Spill (Reuters 8/16)

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