FEMA denies Navajo Nation's emergency request

Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17 during a joint House Oversight and Government Reform-House Natural Resources Committees hearing on the Gold King Mine spill.

FARMINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied the Navajo Nation's request for an emergency declaration in response to the Gold King Mine spill, and the tribe now plans to appeal the decision.

FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate denied the tribe's request in a letter Tuesday to Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

"Based on our review of all of the information available, it have been determined that the vast majority of the response and recovery effort for this event fall under the authorities of other federal agencies," Fugate wrote.

Begaye requested an emergency declaration in an Oct. 2 letter to FEMA. The request specified debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance under the Public Assistance Program.

In Fugate's letter, he said FEMA determined the tribe’s request for supplemental federal assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act was "not necessary or appropriate."

The tribe has 30 days to appeal the decision, Fugate wrote.

From left, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez look on Aug. 9 at the toxic waste water spill into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo.

In a statement released Thursday, Begaye said the tribe will appeal FEMA's decision and "fight for every resource possible to address the damage" caused by the spill.

"The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to decline our request for an emergency declaration is disappointing and wrong," Begaye said.

He added the Navajo people suffered due to the "reckless actions" of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA has accepted responsibility for the Aug. 5 spill that released more than 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

"The Obama Administration has turned down virtually every request we have made for greater assistance, each time referring us back to the EPA — the same agency that caused the problem in the first place," Begaye said.

Earlier in the month, lawmakers from New Mexico and Arizona submitted letters to President Barack Obama calling for him to review and respond to the tribe’s request to declare an emergency on tribal land.

Begaye said Obama needs to respond to the bipartisan call to issue an emergency declaration and instruct federal agencies to assist, instead of sending requests back to the EPA.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

Water flows on Aug. 14 through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine waste water spill in the spillway about one-fourth of a mile downstream from the mine north of Silverton, Colo.