Navajo Nation bill calls on Obama to hold EPA accountable for Gold King Mine spill

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A Navajo lawmaker is sponsoring a bill advocating President Barack Obama hold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accountable for the Gold King Mine spill.

The EPA has accepted responsibility for the spill last month that released more than 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River, which meets the San Juan River and flows through the northern portion of the Navajo Nation.

In testimony before several Senate committees last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy defended her agency's response to the spill, which she called "tragic and unfortunate."

Delegate Jonathan Hale, who represents Oak Springs and St. Michaels chapters in Arizona, is sponsoring the tribal bill.

Hale, who is chairman of the tribal council's Health, Education and Human Services Committee, said that under tribal law the committee has the responsibility to address environmental situations that affect human health.

The bill states countless Navajo farmers were severely impacted by the spill because the contaminated wastewater flowed into the San Juan River, which supplies the tribe's irrigation canals.

Within days of the spill, tribal officials issued restrictions for using river water to irrigate crops and water livestock and for recreational purposes. Restrictions were eventually lifted for irrigation purposes in certain chapter areas.

The spill also contaminated drinking water in the area and forced families to haul water for themselves and their livestock, according to the bill.

"This boo-boo is detrimental to the people," Hale said in a telephone interview Friday.

He added that tribal officials have discussed proposing this type of legislation since the Aug. 5 spill.

The bill would also confirm the tribe's stance regarding the issue, and that point of view would remain in place as future lawmakers continue to address the situation, Hale added.

The legislation will be eligible for committee action on Tuesday and was assigned to the Health, Education and Human Services; Resources and Development; and Naa'bik'íyáti' committees.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.