August 16, 2016

Udall: Navajo Nation Deserves Justice for Damages from Gold King Mine Spill

"This was not a natural disaster, and the communities that were harmed by the toxic spill deserve compensation"

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall issued a statement in support of the Navajo Nation's decision to pursue justice for ongoing damages due to last year's Gold King Mine accident, which sent 3 million gallons of toxic sludge coursing down the Animas and San Juan rivers and through the Navajo Nation.

"The Navajo people have been on the receiving end of devastating environmental disasters brought on by the federal government and private industry for far too long. The spill was an accident, but the EPA made several serious mistakes, and the Navajo Nation has every right to pursue its claims for damages in court. This was not a natural disaster, and the communities that were harmed by the toxic spill deserve compensation.

"Last summer, I visited the area and met with President Begaye, Speaker Bates, Attorney General Branch, Gilbert Harrison, Chili Yazzie and others. The impact that this spill was having on farms, cultural traditions and the spirit of the people was devastating. Before then and since, I have been in frequent communication with both the Navajo Nation and the EPA to keep pushing to resolve these issues. I again spoke about this issue with both President Begaye and the Navajo Nation Council in July when I visited Window Rock to address the Council. I'm extremely disappointed that a year after the spill, the EPA still has not come close to fully compensating those who were harmed. That is way too long, and the Navajo people are understandably angry. I share their anger.

"As the lead Democrat on the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, I have championed funding for long-term independent water quality monitoring for affected communities and pressed EPA to make good on its promises. I will continue to fight in Congress to help New Mexicans and the Navajo Nation recover from this disaster.

"The Gold King Mine is now a poster child for the unacceptable toxic legacy posed by thousands of abandoned mines threatening waterways throughout the Rocky Mountains. As many as 500,000 abandoned mines - just like the Gold King - are ticking time bombs that continue to leak contamination into our limited water supplies. Hardrock mining companies have enjoyed a sweetheart deal for nearly 150 years, paying nothing for the minerals they extract from public land and walking away when they're done, leaving taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup. That's why I'm pushing to reform the 1872 Mining Law so that polluters - mining companies that profit from public lands - will pay to prevent and clean up pollution."

Udall has introduced two bills in the Senate to compensate the Navajo Nation for damages from the Gold King Mine spill and prevent future spills, both cosponsored by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich

-The Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015, which requires the EPA to compensate those who were impacted and work with the states and the Navajo Nation to fund and implement long-term water quality monitoring.

-The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015, which will ensure mining companies pay royalties for the privilege of extracting mineral resources from public lands.