Energy & Environment

Navajo Nation sues EPA over mine spill

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The Navajo Nation is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its handling of a toxic acid mine waste spill, CNN reported Tuesday.

The lawsuit accuses the EPA of negligence in its cleanup of last year’s accident along the Animas River watershed near Silverton, Colo.

{mosads}“After one of the most significant environmental catastrophes in history, the Nation and the Navajo people have yet to have their waterways cleaned, their losses compensated, their health protected or their way of life restored,” the complaint, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, said.

“Despite repeatedly conceding responsibility for the action that caused millions of dollars of harm to the Nation and the Navajo people, the U.S. EPA has yet to provide any meaningful recovery,” it added.

“Efforts to be made whole over the past year have been met with resistance, delays and second-guessing. Unfortunately, this is consistent with a long history of neglect and disregard for the Navajo.”

The suit alleges that the EPA, its contractors and the mining companies ignored the buildup of contaminants and failed to follow “reasonable and necessary precautions” to avoid a spill.

An EPA contractor caused 3 million gallons of toxic sludge from the Gold King Mine to flow from an abandoned mine into a tributary of the Animas River in August 2015.

The Navajo Nation’s attorney general said the incident raised health concerns for those near the river watershed.

“The river has always been a source of life, of purification and of healing,” Ethel Branch said, noting the Navajo people harvest minerals from the river’s banks for religious ceremonies.

“Now it’s been transformed into something that’s a threat,” she added. “It’s been pretty traumatic in changing the role of the river in the lives of the people who rely on it.

“We’re not going to know the health impacts of the exposure to the water for five to 10 years — maybe more. And it’s not just direct exposure, the community is also concerned about eating food that’s been watered with contaminated water, or eating livestock that has consumed the water.”

The EPA on Tuesday said it could not discuss the Navajo Nation’s lawsuit due to ongoing legal proceedings.

“The agency cannot comment on pending litigation,” a spokeswoman told The Hill in an email.

The EPA earlier this month released a report detailing its efforts to address the spill roughly a year before.

“EPA fully recognizes the impacts that the Gold King Mine release has had on communities and residents who live along and use the Animas and San Juan Rivers,” it said.

“We continue to be accountable, and working with our federal, state and tribal partners, we are implementing and sharing best practices and lessons learned from this event.”

Republicans have repeatedly said the EPA has not demonstrated enough accountability or responsibility for the spill.

The agency’s Office of Inspector General also revealed earlier this month it is probing the incident for potential crimes.

Updated at 10:17 a.m.
Tags Department of Education Environment Environmental Protection Agency Gold King Mine Native Americans Navajo Nation

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