WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following remarks at a committee field oversight hearing on “Examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Unacceptable Response to Indian Tribes,” which took place in Phoenix, Ariz., at the City of Phoenix Council Chambers.
The hearing provided an opportunity for committee members to demand answers from the EPA regarding the impact of the Gold King Mine disaster on Indian Country. Committee members also heard testimony from tribal leaders about the EPA’s responses to issues affecting their communities. The field hearing was requested by Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
The hearing’s first panel featured testimony from the U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1).
The second panel heard testimony from the Honorable Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the Honorable Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation; the Honorable Herman G. Honanie, chairman of the Hopi Tribe; the Honorable Lorenzo Bates, speaker of the Navajo Nation Council; and Mr. Clark Lantz, Ph.D., professor and associate head of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Arizona.
Click here for more information on the witnesses’ testimony.
Chairman Barrasso’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Today is Earth Day, a day generally recognized for reflecting on environmental protection.
“Instead, we are called upon to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental disasters.
“This hearing will focus on the EPA’s unacceptable response to Indian tribes.
“Eight months ago, on August 5, 2015, one of the largest environmental catastrophes occurred in the Rocky Mountains. This event affected thousands in three states and at least two Indian tribes under the direction and supervision of the EPA.
“It was called the Gold King Mine blowout.
“In this disaster, over three million gallons of toxic wastewater unleashed into the Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River and then flowed downstream to the San Juan River, affecting thousands of lives on the Navajo Nation.
“Pictures of that event are on the easels in front of us. Words simply cannot describe the economic disaster that ensued.
“In September of last year, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on this disaster and heard testimony from the Navajo Nation and Southern Ute Indian Tribes.
“The President of the Navajo Nation, Russell Begaye, told our committee that for the Navajo people: “Water is sacred, and the river is life for all of us.”
“Unfortunately, for the Navajos and other surrounding communities, this is what life became for thousands last summer.
“I can see why President Begaye and other Navajos “are afraid to use the river.”
“We know that the EPA caused the spill more than eight months ago because they made critical mistakes and they failed to take basic precautions.
“In a few weeks, spring runoffs will begin in the Rocky Mountains.
“The spring runoff is causing another round of fear among residents along the banks of the Animas and San Juan Rivers, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.
“The April 8, Wall Street Journal article states: ‘The EPA hasn’t returned to conduct more tests, and now […] others are worried that lead and other toxic materials that settled in the river will be stirred up and contaminate the water again as the Animas swells with spring snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains.’
“Furthermore, the article goes on to say: ‘The sludge turned the Animas mustard-yellow for days, and federal officials found high levels of toxicity from lead and arsenic. EPA officials eventually cleared the water for drinking and recreation, but warned that chemicals in the riverbed could be stirred up again and that a full clean up could take years.’
“The carelessness of the EPA is disturbing, to say the least.
“It was almost as careless or, to put it bluntly, disrespectful for the EPA not to send a single witness when we announced this hearing almost a month ago.
“It’s a sad day, when a subpoena is needed to be issued from the committee to compel an administration witness to appear.
“An administration witness.
“Not since the hearings of Jack Abramoff did this committee need to compel a witness to come forward.
“It’s shameful, you know it, and Indian Country knows this. Let me be clear, the committee is not finished with the EPA spill. I intend to have further hearings as needed, and I will do whatever it takes for Indian communities to get answers.
“This is not the end.
“Today’s hearing will continue to highlight how the EPA’s actions have impacted tribal communities.
“This includes the inadequate handling of the Gold King Mine disaster and the agency’s response to cleaning up Cold War uranium mines across the Navajo and Hopi reservations.
“I think the Navajo Nation and other tribes in the west are right to not trust the EPA.
“Before we receive testimony from our witnesses, I want to thank Senator McCain for requesting this hearing, on behalf of the Indian tribes, and his leadership on this matter. Thank you Senator McCain.”
On April 13, Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Jon Tester (D-MT), chairman and vice chairman of the SCIA, subpoenaed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy or Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus to testify at the field hearing. The invitation for Stanislaus to testify was originally sent on March 28, but the EPA declined to send him or any other witness.