As the AP reports via the Durango Herald, famed grassroots environmental activist Erin Brockovitch toured the Four Corners area yesterday with officials from the Navajo Nation, and had plenty of criticism for the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the wake of a major accidental release of contaminated minewater into Colorado’s Animas River last month:
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, made famous from the Oscar-winning movie bearing her name, visited the nation’s largest Native American reservation to see the damage caused by millions of gallons of wastewater that spilled from a Colorado mine…
Uncertainty lingers over the long-term dangers to public health and the environment from the spill, which contaminated rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. EPA claims that the threat has eased, but Navajo leadership is skeptical.
Some Navajo irrigation systems remain shuttered until the tribe receives results from its own water and sediment testing. As a result, Begaye has said thousands of acres of crops have gone dry…
Describing the spill as a preventable environmental disaster, Brockovich echoed the concerns of Navajos and the call on the federal government to “do what is right and clean up this mess.”
Local Republicans were giddy at the prospect of a respected activist like Brockovitch joining in on the EPA bashing:
— Jonathan Lockwood (@JNTHN_LCKWD) September 4, 2015
There’s no question that the Navajo Nation has been hit hard by the economic aftereffects and general uncertainty over the Animas River spill. The Navajo lack alternative water supplies or the financial resources to cope with the disaster, and in addition are rightfully reluctant to trust the federal government after literal generations of broken promises.
Following widespread anger at the EPA for triggering the minewater spill in Silverton last month, some legitimate and some politically opportunistic, the agency has taken responsibility for the situation. Of course, the EPA didn’t create the pollution that was backed up behind poorly-designed bulkheads hastily erected by mining companies as they closed up shop. The EPA’s job, in Silverton as at so many other polluted mine sites across Colorado and the West, was to investigate and clean up the pollution. That’s the part of the story that Republican politicians using the spill as a vehicle to attack the EPA on all manner of unrelated issues don’t want to talk about.
But Erin Brockovitch did:
“The continuing situation resulting from the Gold King Mine spill is unacceptable,” she said in a statement. “The EPA’s actions and response reflect an organization that is drastically underfunded, understaffed and in need of an overhaul.” [Pols emphasis]
And with that, Brockovitch is no longer useful to Republicans vilifying the EPA over this spill! Needless to say, or it should be, Republicans conducting showy hearings on the Animas River spill in Washington, D.C. are not interested in increasing either funding or staffing for the Environmental Protection Agency. In the case of this particular disaster, the EPA had repeatedly tried to obtain local support for declaring the cleanup project a Superfund National Priorities List site, which would have made vastly greater resources available. As we now know, locals along with mining corporations like Canada’s Kinross Gold opposed them at every step.
Bottom line: that Republicans would in the end be unable to make use of Brockovitch as a political surrogate against the EPA could have been easily predicted. The entire GOP grandstand over the Animas River spill has seemed terribly precarious from the beginning, since the ultimate solution was never going to be something they could support. That’s why GOP attacks on the EPA over the Animas River have been so shallow argumentatively: if you ask more than the first couple of questions about what happened, the conversation veers away from where Republicans want to take it.
Toward a stronger EPA, not a weaker one.