January 13, 2017

Udall, Heinrich, Luján Statement on Government's Outrageous Decision to Go Back on its Promise to NM, Navajo Nation

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján denounced the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice that the EPA is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages caused by the Gold King Mine Spill. The lawmakers vowed to continue pushing for legislation that would hold the EPA accountable even though the EPA has admitted responsibility. They made the following joint statement:

"We are outraged at this last-ditch move by the federal government's lawyers to go back on the EPA's promise to the people of the state of New Mexico - and especially the Navajo Nation - that it would fully address this environmental disaster that still plagues the people of the Four Corners region. Over a year ago, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy assured both the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and all of us individually that her agency would do the right thing, and see to it that the spill was cleaned up properly. While the agency has taken steps to clean up the mine, no farmer has received a dime of compensation over a year later, and distrust in the government has deepened. All three of us have visited with farmers and others on the Navajo Nation several times since the river they rely on for drinking water and irrigation ran orange with pollution on the EPA's watch. We have seen that the impact of the spill is more complex than the ratio of heavy metals in the water or the strength of the barrier at the mine's entrance. Navajo farmers are still struggling to recover because of distrust of the water and financial losses they took at harvest time.

"The Navajo people have been the victims of terrible and deadly environmental injustice over many years. They have good reason to be skeptical now of the government's honesty about environmental quality. The government's lawyers made this legal maneuver in the face of lawsuits from the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. Fortunately, the issue of legal responsibility under the Federal Tort Claims Act isn't ultimately up to the EPA and the DOJ. A federal court will decide the EPA's liability under the FTCA and other environmental laws. We believe - regardless of the shameful legal interpretation of liability today or the outcome of any lawsuits in the future - that the federal government has a moral obligation to compensate farmers, small business owners and others injured for their losses; to fully reimburse local and Tribal governments for the costs of responding to the spill; and to continue to pay the costs of independent water monitoring until the people have faith in the water again. But we can assure those New Mexicans affected that none of us is willing wait and hope for someone to do the right thing; we will be pushing for legislative solutions as well, and we will not give up until the government makes this right."