Navajo Nation Sues E.P.A. in Poisoning of a Colorado River – by Julie Turkewitz (New York Times – August 16, 2016)

DENVER — The Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the Environmental Protection Agency and several corporations, saying that poisoned water that flowed from a punctured Colorado mine last year disrupted hundreds of lives near a critical watershed.

The disaster, the federal suit says, has heightened economic and spiritual pain in a region hamstrung by poverty and drought. The tribe is seeking to hold the agency and corporations accountable, be made whole for at least $2 million spent on testing and alternative water sources and be compensated for lost revenue and psychological damages.

“We cannot just sit back and let the E.P.A. do what they’ve been doing, just doling us pennies,” said the president of the Navajo Nation, Russell Begaye, in a telephone interview. “This river is the main river that gives life to the whole region, not just those who live around the river, but the entire nation. This is our lifeblood. It is sacred to us.”

A spokeswoman for the E.P.A., Nancy Grantham, said the agency could not comment on active legal issues. Representatives from the mining companies and the E.P.A. contractors declined to comment or did not return messages.

The lawsuit stems from an August 2015 episode in which contractors hired by the E.P.A. to assess a shuttered gold mine — the Gold King in southwest Colorado — accidentally broke the mine’s seal, causing about three million gallons of chemical-laced orange sludge to flow into the Animas River south of the mine and then into the San Juan.

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