August 14, 2015

Chairman Barrasso Demands Answers from EPA on Gold King Mine Disaster’s Impact on Indian Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy demanding answers on the impact of the Gold King Mine disaster’s impact on tribes.
“The EPA’s accidental release of contaminated and toxic waste water into the Animas River in Colorado and the San Juan River in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah is having severe impacts on several tribes that use the waters from the river,” said Chairman Barrasso. “The EPA must work with the tribes to ensure this disaster is taken care of, tribal sovereignty is respected, and that the concerns of the tribes are heard and acted on. The Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe are doing everything they can. It’s time for the EPA to step up and do its part in fixing the problem it created.”
Chairman Barrasso spoke with the President of Navajo Nation Russell Begaye about the situation. He relayed President Begaye’s concerns in the letter to EPA.
In the letter Chairman Barrasso wrote, “I had the opportunity to speak with President Russell Begaye of the Navajo Nation and he expressed deep disappointment and frustration with the agency’s response to the spill.” Barrasso continued, “President Begaye also voiced concerns to me about the EPA distributing a Standard Form 95 document in these communities for tribal members to sign so they may claim damages from the spill. He indicated that this Form would also waive individuals’ future claims and prevent them from seeking compensation for any future damages incurred by this spill. Both the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe have noted that the full extent of the damages caused by the spill will not be known for some time. It is troubling that this Form would be distributed to individuals regarding damages to resources which cannot be fully determined.”
“The EPA must not forget that, besides the individual tribal members, sovereign Indian tribes to whom the United States has a trust responsibility also rely on the water from these two important rivers,” wrote Barrasso. “The work being conducted upstream in Colorado cannot stop at the city of Durango.  That is why I am requesting your agency to immediately work with the affected Indian tribes and begin conducting an analysis on both the current and long-term effects and impacts of the toxic spill.”
Read the full letter here.
On August 5, 2015, an EPA-supervised crew, at the Gold King Mine in Colorado, accidentally released three million gallons of wastewater into Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River in Colorado and then to the San Juan River in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The contaminated water contained heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.