In August, the Environmental Protection Agency, in their infinite wisdom, decided to let three million gallons of toxic water from the abandoned Gold King Mine contaminate the Animas River. The EPA was sent there on a clean up mission, as the mine had been abandoned for nearly a decade–and accumulating hazardous water waste as a result. All told, the arsenic levels in the river are now 300 times the normal rate, with lead levels at 3,500 times what is considered healthy.
The Navajo nation slammed the president’s inaction over the Animas river spill in Colorado that is threatening their way of life. House and Senate hearings over the spill are being held in Congress over this issue (via the Hill):
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye again called on Obama and administration officials to declare the San Juan River a disaster zone.
In August, an EPA accident resulted in 3 million gallons of contaminated water flowing into the Animas River, which runs into the San Juan River. One-third of the Navajo Nation’s people rely on the Animus for water.
EPA officials have insisted the toxins have been diluted. But Begaye said he “doesn’t buy it.” He argues toxins are seeping into ranchers’ soil and threatening livestock and crops.
“There’s no way we can guarantee that the drinking water is safe,” he said.
“We are asking the Democratic Party to have President Obama declare the river a disaster area — and we haven’t gotten anything. Nothing,” he said. “The Democrats? I don’t know what happened. We basically are Democrats. We always vote Democrat. But it seems like they’ve just walked away. And we’re not hearing anything that’s of value to us from the Democrats.”
The September 17 House hearing saw Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, got into an exchange over EPA Administrator McCarthy’s remarks that she was working closely with the Navajo nation, to which Chaffetz criticized since it took two days for the agency to inform them of the emergency. In the Senate hearing held today, Begaye said, “We don’t know whom to trust anymore.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also asked McCarthy if any contractor or employee has been fired over this fiasco (via AZCentral):
When pressed by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, McCarthy could not name a single agency employee or contractor who has been fired for what McCain called a string of failures in the incident. He said it took two days to notify the Navajo Nation of the spill, that the emergency response was inadequate, that the EPA did not “quickly and routinely” share water monitoring data with the tribes – all of which McCarthy challenged.
David C. Weindorf, a professor of soil science at Texas Tech University, questioned the EPA response and disputed claims that the water has returned to pre-spill levels of toxins. He asked why workers aren’t out cleaning the sludge left behind as they did after the oil spills of the Exxon Valdez in 1989 or British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in 2010.
To make matters worse, it was reported in August that the EPA knew of the dangers of the Gold King Mine cleanup. Overall, the agency has been very prickly to requests to release more documents on the spill. On August 18, 30 House members sent a letter to McCarthy for answers to 15 questions they had regarding the spill. During the House hearing yesterday, McCarthy said she hasn’t seen such a letter, but would get back to them shortly. The owner of the gold King Mine also said that the EPA hasn’t been truthful in portions of their testimonies to Congress over this matter. The cost for the cleanup estimated to be anywhere from $338 million to $27 billion.