In August 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released three million gallons of toxic wastewater at the Gold King Mine in Colorado, into the Animas River in Colorado and then both to the San Juan River in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.  To make matters worse, the San Juan River flows through the reservations of the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

To put it mildly, EPA has come under fire for its role in mishandling the spill and the lack of timely notice and transparency.





Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images




This week, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), stated that he would work with the committee to issue a subpoena to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to compel her attendance at a committee field hearing in Arizona on “Examining EPA’s Unacceptable Response to Indian Tribes”.  The EPA, however, declined to testify at the hearing, which is scheduled for April 22, 2016.

In response, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said, “it is my understanding that the EPA has decided not to send a representative to this field hearing. The EPA’s response is unacceptable. It is a violation of our obligation to protect the interests of Native Americans and their tribes and the EPA must be present at this hearing. I respectfully request that the committee issue a subpoena for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to appear at the field hearing scheduled for April 22, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.”

Chairman Barrasso agreed to the request by stating: “Senator McCain, you are correct: The EPA has declined to send anyone to the field hearing. The field hearing you referred to was requested by you on behalf of the Navajo Nation and it is a top priority of this committee. This is not a partisan issue, it is a Native American issue and I will work with you and others on this committee to issue a subpoena for Administrator Gina McCarthy to appear. She is the one in charge at the EPA. The Senate has confirmed her nomination with the understanding that the EPA would be responsive to Congress, and this is not being responsive.”

Suppose this had happened in a non-Indian area

McCain also noted: “suppose this had happened in a non-Indian area. The [EPA] representatives would have been up in arms — [it would have been] a national scandal. . . Instead, not only has the issue not been resolved but the EPA … doesn’t even want to send a representative to a hearing that needs to be held on behalf of these Navajo families whose lands and livelihood and lives have been devastated.”

EPAThe President of the Navajo Nation, Russell Begaye, echoed Senator McCain’s comments, stating in a press release that he applauded Senator John McCain’s call for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to issue a subpoena to EPA to appear at the Committee’s upcoming field hearing. Begay stated: “the Gold King Mine spill culturally and economically devastated Navajo communities along the San Juan River, and the federal government’s failed response to this crisis is a public health, natural resources and economic disaster. The Navajo people have suffered due to the reckless actions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other responsible parties. To make matters worse, the EPA continues to add insult to injury by refusing to send even a single representative to the upcoming field hearing on the spill. It has been eight months since the incident and despite promises to take full responsibility for the consequences of the three million gallon toxic spill, the EPA has instead dragged its feet and has yet to fully reimburse the Navajo Nation’s costs. We commend Senator McCain for calling out the EPA’s unacceptable behavior and holding Administrator McCarthy accountable. As the administrator of the EPA, it is McCarthy’s responsibility to appear at this important hearing to personally provide information about the EPA’s reckless actions and explain how and when this federal agency intends to compensate our families.”

Hopefully, EPA has got the message.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith

Manager and co-owner of Hohokam(TM) Water LLC

hohokam-logoManager and co-owner of Red CanyonTM Water LLC, Ryan A. Smith, has dedicated his career to helping tribes secure access to clean drinking water. Ryan served as Deputy Counsel for the Arizona Department of Water Resources and as professional staff in the U.S. Senate where he secured hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for Indian tribes throughout the United States. He continues to work as an attorney, working with tribes to secure funding for critical water infrastructure.