Senators seek repayment for mine spill response
FARMINGTON — A half dozen U.S. senators are backing an amendment to expedite federal reimbursements to states, tribes, local governments and individuals for expenses incurred during the Gold King Mine spill.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., led the effort on Monday with senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John McCain, R-Ariz., in introducing an amendment to a Senate bill for the Water Resources Development Act.
In addition, the amendment calls on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to work with states, tribes and local governments to develop and implement a water quality program to monitor the rivers contaminated by the Aug. 5, 2015 spill.
The spill occurred when a crew from the EPA accidentally released more than 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste while working at the abandoned mine north of Silverton, Colo. in August 2015.
The water quality program would be responsible for collecting water samples and sediment data, and releasing that information online for the public's review, according to the amendment.
In a joint press release on Monday, the senators said they support holding the EPA accountable for the spill, and they emphasized that reimbursements to government entities and individuals are needed.
Udall said reimbursements to state and tribal governments "have taken far too long," and the amendment will start the reimbursement process.
"It also takes important steps to help rebuild confidence in the quality of the water in the San Juan and Animas rivers through long-term monitoring," Udall said.
Heinrich called the rate to repay individuals "unacceptable." He also called for action to reform "outdated policies" to clean up contaminated mines in the West and on tribal lands.
"Western communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land and livelihoods," Heinrich said.
The bipartisan effort received support on Wednesday from Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, who continued his calls for reimbursing Navajo farmers.
Begaye said in a press release that funds received as a result of the amendment would be used to build a laboratory in Shiprock that would be used to study the water quality of the San Juan River.
"This amendment sets forth funds to be provided for monitoring of the San Juan River and irrigation canals. We need for our farmers to be confident that the water quality is irrigable," the tribal president said.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.