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Senate Panel to Examine Effects of Toxic Spill on Tribes

A 2015 spill at Colorado's Gold King Mine dumped 3 million gallons of mine waste and toxic substances into the Animas and San Juan rivers. (KaraGrubis/iStockphoto)
A 2015 spill at Colorado's Gold King Mine dumped 3 million gallons of mine waste and toxic substances into the Animas and San Juan rivers. (KaraGrubis/iStockphoto)
April 22, 2016

PHOENIX – The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs holds an oversight field hearing today in Phoenix to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to tribes whose livelihood was damaged by a toxic spill.

In August, the EPA caused a spill of toxic wastewater that turned the Animas and San Juan rivers orange as they flowed through parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, says tribal farmers sustained major crop and livestock losses, and he wants the EPA to take responsibility.

"The revenue from the crops that they grow, that's their income,” he points out. “That's how they feed their family, that's how they pay their bills, that's how they provide for their children, and just their family. And all of that was wiped out last year, because of the spill."

Begaye plans to testify at the hearing, along with Herman Honanie, chairman of the Hopi Tribe, officials from the EPA and scientists who have studied the spill.

According to reports, a breach at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., dumped 3 million gallons of mine waste and toxic substances into the river system.

While the EPA has publicly stated it will take full responsibility for damages resulting from the spill, Begaye says the agency has yet to begin compensating those who have suffered losses, and they're tired of waiting.

"I want EPA to say, 'We will start compensating the farmers tomorrow,'” he states. “And I want the farmers to start being compensated and not given a hard time when they tell us what their losses are."

The committee has subpoenaed EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to appear at the hearing, but it's expected that she will send an assistant to testify.

The hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. local time in the city council chambers at Phoenix City Hall.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM