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EPA withholds mine spill documents from Congress

By   /   August 25, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 4 of 10 in the series Poison Hotline (EPA)
Photo: Alexa Rogals/The Daily Times via AP

WILDLIFE TRAGEDY: Ducks wade in the Animas River as orange sludge from a mine spill upstream flows past Berg Park in Farmington, N.M. on Aug. 8.

A congressional committee blasted the Environmental Protection Agency today for blocking release of documents related to the Gold King mine disaster, which poured deadly chemicals into the largest source of drinking water in the West. 

“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the EPA failed to meet the House Science Committee’s reasonable deadline in turning over documents pertaining to the Gold King Mine spill,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). “These documents are essential to the Committee’s ongoing investigation and our upcoming hearing on Sept. 9. But more importantly, this information matters to the many Americans directly affected in western states, who are still waiting for answers from the EPA.”

Smith – who frequently spars with the EPA – is chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. EPA director Gina McCarthy has been asked to appear and answer questions about the agency’s role in creating a 3-million-gallon toxic spill into Colorado’s Animas River on Aug. 5. Critics say McCarthy and the EPA have been unresponsive, secretive and unsympathetic toward millions of people who live in three states bordering the river.

For several days, the EPA didn’t notify the states of Utah, New Mexico or the Navajo Nation that the spill was coming their way. McCarthy waited a week before visiting Colorado and even then she refused to tour Silverton, the town nearest the Gold King mine where EPA contractors unleashed the toxic plume into waterways that feed the Colorado River. The agency withheld the name of the contractor working on the project and other details that are generally considered public information. Lastly, the Navajo Nation, which relies on the river for drinking water and farming, received an emergency supply from the EPA in oil-contaminated containers.

Smith also blasted McCarthy for traveling to Japan while controversy over the spill continues to swirl. He criticized President Barack Obama, as well.

“EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is currently crusading on climate-change action in Japan while President Obama, who has yet to visit the areas affected by the spill, is touring the U.S. to tout EPA’s latest regulation that will do little to impact climate change and will only further burden Americans with higher electric bills,” Smith said.

And it’s not just the public and the media that have been frustrated by the EPA’s inaction.

“Time and again, the EPA has failed to be cooperative, forthright, or reasonable in its dealings with my Committee and with Congress in general,” Smith told Watchdog. “The agency embodies all the dysfunction, misguided priorities, and government overreach that angers so many Americans. The EPA seems to have a clear disregard for the very people it is intended to serve.”

The hearing is scheduled to last just a day and could include testimony from the firm that was contracted to stem the flow of toxic water from several mines above Silverton. Smith said in a statement last week that people affected by the spill continue to deal with limited information and uncertainty.


“As the agency entrusted by the American people to protect the environment and ensure the nation’s waters are clean, the EPA should be held to the highest standard,” Smith said. “The Science Committee needs to hear from the EPA about steps it is taking to repair the damage and to prevent this from ever occurring again.”

One official familiar with the committee but not authorized to speak said House members have been dismayed by an increased number of reports showing either incompetence or flat-out disregard in a variety of situations not limited just to the Animas River spill.

And at least one state senator has started an investigation into allegations that the EPA purposely caused the spill to create a Superfund site – a designation that the tiny town of Silverton has repeatedly rebuffed.

“EPA gets a failing grade from me for pursuing an extreme agenda at the expense of our nation’s economy, American interests, and, in this case, environmental protection,” Smith told Watchdog. “The more I review reports from the spill, the more questions I have about EPA’s faulty processes and failure to communicate with local residents and officials.”


Part of 10 in the series Poison Hotline (EPA)


Tori formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.