EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks at a press conference Thursday morning in Farmington, New Mexico – Navajo Times photo by Donovan Quintero
Published August 14, 2015
SHIPROCK, NEW MEXICO — Administrator Regina McCarthy from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency met with Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez in a private meeting Thursday, August 13, 2015. They took a tour of both the San Juan River and also visited the Nation’s Eastern Incident Command Post.
They discussed contamination of the San Juan River and the resources needed by the Navajo Nation to provide affected tribal members with water for drinking, irrigation and livestock.
The primary concern is for the health and safety of Navajos along the river, and especially the economic impact of farmers in the middle of the growing season.
“A lot of people make their money right now, during the harvest. When they are cut off, they don’t know what lies ahead economically for them and their families,” President Begaye said.
“We need to help settle their uneasiness. They don’t know if they can trust the water again. They want assurances that we will not bring contaminated water into their irrigation canals and farmlands,” President Begaye said.
There is uneasiness and uncertainty, he said, especially since Navajo people have a natural distrust of the federal government based on our history working with them. The President urged McCarthy to provide Navajo people with Interim Claim Forms rather than the Standard Form 95 that EPA staff is distributing to Navajo people.
Submission of Standard Form 95 puts Navajo people at risk of not being able to submit additional claims for future losses arising from the ongoing release of contaminants from Gold King Mine.
Vice President Nez said the Navajo people are not the only people he’s worried about, but also the people of the Four Corners Region.
“It’s also our neighbors, our friends in Durango and Silverton that we’re worried about. We need to have that direct government-to-government relationship. We keep waiting to hear from President Obama and hope he will see this is a great concern for our Navajo people and for our neighbors,” Vice President Nez said.
Administrator McCarthy said the EPA and White House know the seriousness of the situation and she brought her team to address the short-term issues and long-term issues for mitigation and restoration.
“We need to make sure that we have visibility on this issue and capability on this issue, so we can speak with a unified voice with your Nation. You have quite a bit of capability here that we’re coordinating with,” McCarthy said.
She said the sampling is going to continue by the EPA and Navajo EPA for collection of water samples and sediment.
“We have a good trust relationship with Navajo and we will not use this incident in any way to deteriorate our relationship, we will do everything we can to continue to strengthen it,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy brought high-level emergency response staff with her from Regions 9 and assured the President that “they come with resources for the Navajo people.”