The PJ Tatler

Old Arsenic and EPA: Lawmakers Blast Agency for Toxic Spill and Subsequent 'Unmatched Hubris'

Lawmakers are demanding to know what the Environmental Protection Agency is doing about the environmental contamination it caused while “investigating” the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado.

According to the EPA, while an agency cleanup crew was “excavating loose material that had collapsed into the cave entry, pressurized water began leaking above the mine tunnel, spilling about three million gallons of water stored behind the collapsed material into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.”

The path of the toxic water, laced with arsenic, lead, copper and cadmium, is affecting Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Southern Ute Tribe and Navajo Nation.

“EPA is taking the lead on efforts to contain the leak and flow from the mine is now controlled. EPA has also deployed federal On-Scene Coordinators and other technicians in Colorado, New Mexico and Navajo Nation to assist with preparations and first response activities in these jurisdictions. EPA is sharing information as quickly as possible with the community as experts work to analyze any effects the spill may have on drinking water and public health,” the agency said on a website page pulled together with news on the spill and a link to a damage claim form.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said his Environment and Public Works Committee is closely monitoring the spill and the EPA’s response.

“This has and will continue to lead to significant economic damage to local businesses, farmers, tribes, and residents,” Inhofe said in a statement. “I will work within the Committee and with my colleagues in Congress to ensure the EPA is held accountable to this grave incident and that those impacted are provided the necessary support to move forward.”

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) called it “outrageous, reckless, and unacceptable that it’s been seven days since the EPA released three million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River and the federal agency still has few answers.”

“Although the EPA has finally acknowledged the magnitude of the crisis, its ongoing lack of communication and coordination must be rectified,” he said. “The local communities and industries that rely on the river for their livelihoods deserve transparency, accountability, and an explanation that is far-past due.”

“We will hold the @EPA accountable. Right now our main concern is addressing this blowout and ensuring safe water,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) tweeted.

The two Colorado senators, along with Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy asking that she visit the site of the spill, and another asking for an EPA recovery plan.

“Reports indicate that the mine is still leaking contaminated water and sediment into the river. Additionally, the toxic stream has now expanded across New Mexico and into Utah,” the lawmakers wrote. “…We believe a full emergency response team needs to be on the ground in Durango with adequate funding and staffing to respond to this disaster. In addition, we request that the EPA release a long-term plan to ensure full economic and environmental recovery of the affected area.”

“Even though EPA has announced a claims process for compensating citizens who suffer injury or property damage, the EPA should ensure that such compensation also includes assistance to individuals, local businesses, and agricultural producers who have lost significant revenue or taken significant losses due to this tragedy. This should include a system for state, tribal, county, and city officials to seek reimbursement for expenditures they have incurred as the result of the toxic release. Finally, EPA should commit to covering costs sustained by non-profits who have conducted water quality sampling and other services related to mitigating this disaster.”

Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) lashed out at McCarthy in his own letter. “Exhibiting hubris unmatched in government, the EPA frequently lectures the nation about the dangers of uncontrolled pollutants and has been unilaterally attempting to impose senselessly strict regulations on industries essential to American life under the guise of protecting the environment,” Salmon said.

“At the same time, careless EPA employees just negligently created one of the worst toxic sludge spills in U.S. history and the agency can’t seem to find the words to inform millions of citizens who rely on the Animas and Colorado Rivers about the spill’s effects on safe drinking water.”

The Sierra Club levied the blame on mining operations that left the toxic water there for the EPA to blow into the waterway.

“Our thoughts are with the families in Colorado and New Mexico who now have to worry about whether their drinking water is clean or their jobs are threatened because of this needless disaster. The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse,” the environmental group said in a statement.

“As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.”