Republicans upset with lack of criminal charges in Gold King Mine disaster

From left: Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, examined conditions on the San Juan River in August 2015, following the Gold King Mine spill. Photo by Navajo Nation OPVO

Key Republican lawmakers are lashing out at the Obama administration after federal prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges in connection with the Gold King Mine disaster.

An August 2015 spill at the abandoned mine in Colorado sent at estimated 3 million gallons of toxic waste into the waters of three reservations. But the incident is being treated as an accident despite evidence of criminal wrongdoing, according to the lawmakers.

"This is unacceptable," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a member and former chairman of the panel, said in a letter on Monday.

The letter, which was sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch of the Department of Justice and Administrator Gina McCarthy of the Environmental Protection Agency, demands a briefing to explain why no charges are being filed. Key Republicans in the House made a similar request last week.

"By not taking up the case, the Department of Justice looks like it is going easy on its colleagues in EPA," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, wrote in an October 12 letter that was joined by two colleagues.

The EPA has taken responsibility for the spill although McCarthy has repeatedly denied any notion of deliberate wrongdoing. But in hopes of addressing the controversy, the agency launched a series of evaluations and investigations into the disaster, which had a major impact on agriculture and livestock on the Navajo Nation, one of the three tribes affected.

While those reviews were underway, the EPA in late July took the unusual step of disclosing the existence of a "criminal investigation." That gave some hope to Republican lawmakers, who have criticized the Obama administration for not being more forthcoming with tribes about the extent of the disaster.

But the lawmakers were disappointed when EPA staff informed them that no charges will be filed.

"This week, we learned that after having found evidence of criminal wrongdoing, including violations of the Clean Water Act and the False Claims Act," Barrasso and McCain, who is running for re-election said in their letter.

The Navajo Nation has sued the EPA for damages caused by the spill 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 in the system.

"President Obama, where are you?" Navajo President Russell Begaye said of the river on banks of the river in August. "We want you -- as the president of the entire nation -- to step up and say, 'Navajo Nation, I'm sorry.'"

In addition to the Navajo Nation, the Southern Ute Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, both in Colorado, were affected by the disaster.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
House approves national water bill without #NoDAPL amendment (09/28)
Cronkite News: Navajo Nation pushes for cleanup of mine site (09/22)
Senate passes water bill but fails to include #NoDAPL amendment (09/15)
Second run scheduled to raise awareness of Gold King Mine disaster (08/23)
Navajo Nation sues Environmental Protection Agency for mine spill (8/17)
Federal criminal investigation ongoing into Gold King Mine disaster (08/01)
Cronkite News: EPA slammed for response to Gold King Mine spill (04/28)
Navajo Nation leaders to testify at Senate Indian Affairs Committee field hearing (04/21)
Witness list for Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Arizona (4/15)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee sends subpoena to leader of EPA (4/13)
Sen. Barrasso calls on EPA leader to attend hearing on mine spill (4/12)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee weighs subpoena of EPA leader (4/11)
President of Navajo Nation calls on EPA to testify at field hearing (4/7)
Tribes and states work together to monitor water after mine spill (3/25)
Gina McCarthy: Flint water crisis puts attention on justice issues (03/15)
EPA encourages more tribes to develop water quality standards (03/02)
House committee issues subpoenas in Gold King Mine disaster (02/19)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee postpones field hearing into EPA (02/08)
EPA asserts a greater role as water crisis in Michigan continues (01/22)
Little River Band contributes $10K to assist city during water crisis (1/19)
House committee set for another hearing on Gold King Mine spill (12/07)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe donates bottled water for city residents (10/7)
Bill aims to address claims arising from spill at Gold King Mine (09/23)
EPA chief faces fire for dealings with tribes after mine disaster (9/17)
House committees hold long hearing into Gold King Mine spill (9/18)
EPA Administrator to appear at three Gold King Mine hearings (09/11)
Navajo Nation hosts Erin Brockovich after spill at Gold King Mine (9/9)
House committee to hold first hearing into Gold King Mine spill (9/8)
Navajo Nation welcomes Erin Brockovich in aftermath of disaster (9/7)
Navajo Nation hires firm to pursue Gold King Mine spill lawsuit (9/1)
Multiple Capitol Hill hearings set into disaster at Gold King Mine (8/31)
Navajo Nation to reopen irrigation canal after Gold King mine spill (8/28)
EPA releases internal report into Gold King Mine spill disaster (8/27)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee to hold hearing on EPA mine spill (8/26)
Native Sun News: Tribes respond to toxic spill at abandoned mine (8/25)
Navajo Nation remains cautious after spill impacts water system (8/21)
Navajo Nation farmers losing crops amid mine spill concerns (8/18)
Leader of EPA visits Navajo Nation after mine spill in Colorado (8/13)
President of Navajo Nation upset with EPA's response to spill (8/12)
Navajo Leader: 'This is an assault on who we are as Dine people' (8/11)
Navajo Nation to sue EPA over release of mine waste into waters (8/10)
Trending in News
More Headlines