It’s been seven months since the Environmental Protection Agency unleashed 3 million gallons of water tainted by arsenic, lead and other heavy metals into Colorado’s Animus River—but the scandal continues to unfold as the agency’s ineptitude prevails.
Commissioners in La Plata County had asked the agency to pay $2.4 million over the next decade, a sum that would reimburse the costly cleanup efforts. The agency denied that request earlier this week, saying it would cover only some of the costs up through Oct. 31. The agency shirks its financial responsibility despite its central role in triggering the environmental catastrophe.
The Durango Herald reports on the EPA’s stingy response:
“What’s the mechanism for recovering actual damages that our community, the city of Durango, the Southern Utes, San Juan County and Silverton incurred, that aren’t out-of-pocket? That were damages to our reputation, for lack of a better word?” Commissioner Julie Westendorff asked. “We have a fishing, rafting and tourism industry that people come here for. We took a big hit on it. Oct. 31 wasn’t the last day we had costs – that’s when your (the EPA’s) response was over.”
… The EPA reimbursed the county for one task – $9,700 for a tour of regional Superfund sites – and is evaluating another – costs incurred from Aug. 6 through Dec. 31, 2015, that total $249,224. Earlier this year, the county received about $200,000 from the EPA for costs incurred immediately after the spill.
La Plata officials aren’t the only ones fed up with the EPA’s lack of response. Russell Begaye, the president of the Navajo Nation, penned a furious op-ed earlier this month in The Hill. The most interesting, if tragic, detail? Navajo suicides have spiked since the toxic spill, Begaye says.
He details the impact:
For weeks we could not access the river, drink from it, use it for our cattle, or rely on it to feed our crops. … Seven months after this devastating tragedy, our river remains toxic, and the Navajo people’s pleas continue to be ignored.
The EPA has not paid the Navajo Nation or individual Navajo people a single dollar to address the harms caused by the poisoning of the San Juan River. When the Navajo Nation submitted its expenses to the EPA, pleading for recovery, the agency responded with criticism, skepticism, and an insulting offer to pay a miniscule percentage of the costs.
Costs from the spill are mounting. Contamination of the San Juan River takes a profound economic, cultural, and spiritual toll on our people whose daily lives are intricately bound up with the River. The Navajo people already face a daunting unemployment rate of 42%. Farming and ranching are critical means of survival and supporting a family. Yet our subsistence farmers and ranchers watched their crops die and relocated their livestock away from the River at great expense. These families lost crucial income and are still suffering. …The effects of this disaster will ripple through our communities for years.
The EPA’s mistakes didn’t sit well with at least one prominent member of Congress. Earlier this month Sen. John McCain called for a criminal investigation into the spill. The activist agency may finally get a taste of its own bitter medicine.