ICYMI: The Navajo People Sue the EPA Over Gold King Mine Spill

By Yessenia Funes Aug 19, 2016

The Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against the EPA and five corporations Tuesday (August 16) for poisoning their waterways in last year’s Gold King Mine Spill in Colorado.

The corporations include environmental cleanup or mining companies Environmental Restoration LLC, Harrison Western Corp., Gold King Mines Corp., Sunnyside Gold Corp. and Kinross Gold Corp.

The spill was a result of the EPA excavating the old mine and unintentionally releasing three million gallons of stored wastewater—laden with arsenic and lead—which flowed into the Animas and San Juan rivers. The San Juan is an especially important source of water for the Navajo, but the Nation claims that the agency didn’t notify them of the accident until nearly two days after. The agency has acknowledged that it is responsible. 

The lawsuit reads:

Now, a year after one of the most significant environmental catastrophes in history, the Nation and the Navajo people have yet to have their waterways cleaned, their losses compensated, their health protected, or their way of life restored. Despite repeatedly conceding responsibility for the actions that caused millions of dollars of harm to the Nation and the Navajo people, the [EPA] has yet to provide any meaningful recovery. Efforts to be made whole over the past year have been met with resistance, delays, and second-guessing. Unfortunately, this is consistent with a long history of neglect and disregard for the wellbeing of the Navajo people.

Earlier this month, the EPA awarded the Navajo $445,000 and has currently spent more than $29 million on the incident, but the Navajo people are demanding at least $2 million for testing, alternative water sources and to compensate for “lost revenue and psychological damages,” according to The New York Times. The lawsuit notes ranchers and farmers livelihoods and pockets took a hit from not being able to safely use the natural resources they rely on, namely land and water.

“We cannot just sit back and let the E.P.A. do what they’ve been doing, just doling us pennies,” said Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye to the Times. “This river is the main river that gives life to the whole region, not just those who live around the river, but the entire nation. This is our lifeblood. It is sacred to us.”