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Navajo EPA Head Calls on Congress to Intervene in Mine Spill Recovery

The Nature Conservancy

The director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency has called on Congress to intervene in the tribe’s recovery from last month’s Gold King Mine spill. Navajo officials say the federal government has failed to provide adequate relief to residents and farmers. 

 Navajo EPA director Donald Benn has requested federal money to examine possible long-term health effects of the 3-million-gallon toxic spill. He’s also called for the establishment of a fund to help Navajo ranchers and farmers along the San Juan River, one of at least two western waterways affected.

During congressional testimony Wednesday, Benn said the U.S. EPA’s response has lacked transparency, and that the agency should no longer be involved in the recovery effort. Federal EPA employees and contractors were responsible for the spill and subsequent contamination.

“We believe another agency such as FEMA should take the lead on the response and an independent body should conduct the investigation,” Benn told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

However, the Federal Emergency Response Agency said it would not assist the Navajo Nation since the U.S. EPA is heading up the effort.

That agency says it’s committed to working with the Navajo Nation, as well as reimbursing legitimate claims of damage. It’s also continuing water testing along the San Juan and Animas rivers. Officials say water quality has returned to pre-spill levels.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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