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Navajo Nation President Testifies on Gold King Mine Spill Impacts

Donovan Quintero/Navajo Times

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the impacts of the Gold King Mine spill on the tribe. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, he’s concerned about the spill’s environmental and economic impact on Navajo farmers.

President Begaye said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency waited 48 hours before informing Navajo Nation officials of the incident. He said the agency’s response lacks transparency and creates mistrust.

“Today, during our greatest time of need, with our people struggling for water for their animals, livestock and irrigation, the U.S. EPA has abandoned us,” Pres. Begaye said in his testimony.

The estimated 3 million gallons of mine waste dumped into Colorado’s Animas River eventually made its way to the San Juan River, which is used for Navajo agriculture. The EPA initially trucked in emergency water supplies, but stopped the deliveries, saying water tests show the river is safe for use.

President Begaye called on the EPA, and other federal agencies, to compensate farmers and ranchers. He also requested resources so the tribe can conduct its own water testing and study the long-term environmental and health effects of the spill.

At the same hearing, EPA director Gina McCarthy said the agency is taking full responsibility for cleanup and recovery, and is working with tribes to reimburse those affected.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers 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 frequent contributor to NPR.
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