“Today we come to ask for your help. The White House is silent. FEMA, DOI and other federal agencies are being told to not use their own resources to help us by the USEPA,” testified President Begaye. “USEPA has made promises but we have not seen any of these promises fulfilled. The promises remain empty. They are like the thunder we hear over our land but with no rain.”
In his opening statements, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) told USEPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that making sure USEPA was held accountable was the primary cause and reason for the hearing.
“We want to find out what happened, how to solve it and to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We want to find out why EPA was so slow to notify downstream users of what was happening. I’m very proud of the tribes in the area that were effective with the resources that they had.”
Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Massachusetts) told the joint committee that he used to live in Farmington, New Mexico. He said he knows the Navajo people are intensely invested spiritually in their land.
“What are we going to do to make things right with the Navajo?” he asked Administrator McCarthy. “They are a sovereign nation and we have a huge responsibility to rectify this situation.”
Animus River was contaminated on August 5, 2015
Representative Paul A. Gosar (R-Arizona) asked President Begaye if he felt the EPA’s coordination was adequate in notifying the Navajo Nation.
“If coordination is waiting two days before notification happens, I don’t think that is coordination at all,” President Begaye answered.
Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico) asked that a memo from EPA be added to the record in which the EPA itself stated that they waited 24 hours before notifying their very own agency in Region 8 about the spill. This was before the EPA had ever notified any of the surrounding states or the tribes.
President Begaye outlined the following requests for Congress:
1. First and foremost is compensation. The farmers and ranchers cannot wait months before they are compensated for their damages. Have the EPA setup an Emergency Compensation Fund and provide ongoing repayment of losses as they are submitted.
2. Alternative water source for drinking, for livestock and for irrigating farms. We need wells to be drilled, a reservoir built and water piped from the Navajo Dam.
3. USEPA must build a laboratory on the Navajo Nation so we can continuously test our water, soil, plants, and livestock.
4. The Committee should tell President Obama to declare the San Juan River a disaster area. Only then will other federal agencies beside EPA provide services we need. This will allow FEMA, USDA, DOI and other federal agencies to provide resources we need now.
5. The Committee should hold a follow up hearing 6 months from now to keep USEPA accountable for this crisis.
President Begaye also testified Wednesday, September 16, 2015, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.