Politics

Navajo Nation President Criticizes Government Inaction Over EPA Spill

| by Robert Fowler
Navajo Nation President Russell BegayeNavajo Nation President Russell Begaye

Following an August spill that contaminated one-third of the Navajo Nation’s drinking water and damaged their crops, the nation is pressuring President Obama to hold the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responsible. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has been heavily critical of the president and the Democratic party for not doing enough to help his community.

The EPA has admitted responsibility in the Gold King Mine Spill, which resulted in three million gallons of wastewater seeping into the Animas River, The Hill reported. The toxic spill traveled from the Animas to the San Juan River, which provides the water for the Navajo Nation’s irrigation canals.

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The Navajo Nation is the largest remaining Native American tribe, their reservations covering Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

With their crops damaged and drinking water polluted, the Navajo Nation is seeking to sue the EPA for damages, meeting with Enron-prosecutor John Hueston and water pollution activist Erin Brockovich. EPA officials, however, have said that the toxins are diluted, and the Navajo Nation's request for disaster assistance has been declined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), reports the Washington Times.

Begaye has been vocally critical of the lack of government action, particularly with FEMA refusing to call the incident a disaster. 

“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,” he said in a statement on Sept. 4, according to the Washington Times. “U.S. EPA caused this entire disaster, they have harmed the people, the water and the land.

“ ... 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.”

While meeting with lawmakers in Washington D.C. this month, Begaye told The Hill that the Obama administration has ignored the Navajo Nation’s requests for help.

“With Obama, we’ve been asking for him to at least give us a call and tell us you are there to help us and walk with us,” Begaye told The Hill. “But we have heard not a word. It seems like they’ve just closed the doors and walked away.”

Begaye added that the Navajo Nation is fed up with the lack of government assistance.

“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,” he said.

Sources: The Hill, Daily Times, Washington Times

Photo Credit: Navajo Nation Washington Office / Flickr, WikiCommons