- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2015

DENVER — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye unloaded on the federal government Friday after the Federal Emergency Management Agency refused his request for disaster relief resulting from the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic spill.

The notice came as the EPA began removing emergency water tanks last week provided to Navajo farmers for their livestock.

“We are extremely frustrated with the news that both FEMA and the U.S. EPA have declined our urgent requests to continue assistance to the Navajo Nation,” Mr. Begaye said in a late Friday statement.

“U.S. EPA caused this entire disaster, they have harmed the people, the water and the land,” Mr. Begaye said. “I appreciated the fact U.S. EPA took responsibility, and I was hoping for the U.S. EPA to prove to the Navajo Nation they are willing to hold themselves accountable. This action clearly shows otherwise.”

The Navajo Nation was hard hit after an EPA-led crew accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of orange wastewater Aug. 5 into the Animas River from a mine near Silverton, Colorado. The contaminated water made its way to New Mexico’s San Juan River, forcing the nation to shut off water to residential and agricultural users.

“President Obama and FEMA need to be more proactive and declare this as a disaster area,” Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez said in a Thursday statement. “The Navajo Nation should have the affected tribal lands designated as its own EPA region. There would be less confusion this way.”

FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate declined in a letter to assign a disaster-recovery coordinator to the Navajo Nation, saying that the EPA was taking the lead in responding to the problem, the Arizona Republic reported.

The spill has caused no end of headaches for the Navajo. The first round of water tanks dropped off by an EPA contractor were still dirty with oil from a previous delivery. Some farmers have been reluctant to reopen their intakes for crops and livestock even after being cleared by the EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has apologized for the accident at the Gold King Mine, and her agency is working now to clean up the spill and reimburse communities and businesses for their losses.

Jared Blumenfeld, EPA regional administrator for Region 9, sent a letter Thursday to Mr. Begaye suggesting that we “bring our teams together after Labor Day for a focused dialogue to bring clarity to your additional information needs and to chart a course forward,” the Farmington [N.M.] Daily Times reported.

Still, the Navajo Nation has hired attorneys to prepare a lawsuit against the EPA.

“For years, we have consistently been at the receiving end of toxic spills and contamination with no adequate relief as the United States Government and Private Companies became wealthy off of the natural resources of the Navajo Nation,” Mr. Begaye said.

A representative of Water Defense took samples on the nation in August and plans to release the findings Sept. 13, the Navajo Times reported.

Meanwhile, anti-pollution advocate Erin Brockovich, who was played by Julia Roberts in the eponymous movie, is scheduled to visit the Navajo Nation on Tuesday.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is slated to hold a hearing Wednesday on the spill. Chairman Lamar Smith asked Ms. McCarthy to testify, but the EPA is sending assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus instead, prompting renewed criticism.

“No Accountability: EPA Chief Snubs Congress, Sends Lackey to Explain Spill,” opined the conservative website Colorado Peak Politics in a Friday post.

EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said Mr. Stanislaus was “uniquely qualified” to address questions arising from the spill.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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