A year after the Gold King Mine spilled three million gallons of toxic chemicals into the Animas River, the EPA last week announced the site as a Superfund site, where a polluted area is required for a long-term cleanup and becomes eligible for federal funding to do so. With the Bonita Peak Mining District now on the National Priorities List, the agency will devote $1 billion for better investigating and addressing contamination concerns for those along the San Juan River, including the Navajo Nation who are still waiting for compensation for lost crops and reassurance of the water’s quality. The Navajo Nation is hesitant to use any water for farming and livestock, as they are skeptical of the water’s safety and concerned with long-term health effects from the spill.
The EPA’s announcement comes a few weeks after the Navajo Nation sued them for an insufficient cleanup after the Gold King Mine Spill and the lack of compensation for lost crops for a year. Almost 3,000 farms and ranches were affected as they stopped irrigating from the river and crops dried up and livestock were sold due to lacking resources to maintain them. Some remain doubtful that the river will ever be restored with lacking reassurances of safety and over a century’s worth of mining affecting the area with hundreds of abandoned mines near the Animas River which were poorly constructed and managed.
Even a bipartisan group of senators want to expedite the reimbursement to those affected by the Gold King Mine Spill. They introduced an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act which would force the EPA to pay eligible claims made after October 2015 within 90 days. County officials, local companies and individuals through the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are still waiting for thousands of dollars worth of reimbursement with some only being paid in part and others receiving nothing so far.
While these issues should have been addressed long ago with the EPA taking responsibility for the Gold King Mine Spill, it is a relief to environmental and tribal activists that the agency will better assess the damage and devote what will likely be 10 years into cleanup of the Animas and San Juan Rivers. The Navajo Nation had to wait for far too long for their concerns to be properly addressed with their livelihoods at stake. It seems that the EPA is finally taking full, genuine accountability for the Gold King Mine Spill and will address the increasing complaints.
With a newfound hope for the Navajo and their livelihood to be fully restored, these developments from the EPA are the course of action we need to see in light of the Dakota Access Pipeline which will threaten the water supply of the Standing Rock Tribe and the 18 million people living downstream. While the Obama Administration temporarily halted construction near the reservation, Energy Transfer CEO Kelcy Warren announced that 60 percent of the pipeline is finished and vows to complete construction, saying that “concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the local water supply are unfounded.” The violation of basic human rights will not be ignored and the voices against the pipeline will only become louder until construction halts indefinitely and Energy Transfer accepts accountability.
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Image Source: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/navajo-nation-sues-federal-government-for-gold-king-mine-spill-8556166 [Photographer: Jerry McBride]