The Environmental Protection Agency intentionally caused a spill of toxic waste at a Colorado mine that threatened water supplies for tens of thousands of people, the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee in the US House of Representatives is alleging.
“There was nothing unintentional about EPA’s actions with regard to breaching the mine,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R.-Utah) said this month. “They fully intended to dig out the plug and breach it.”
Bishop was referring to EPA cleanup efforts at the abandoned Gold King mine near Silverton in southwestern Colorado in August 2015. Contractors working for the agency breached a dam that was holding back toxic waste, pouring three million gallons of toxic waste out of a holding pond and into the nearby Animas River. The waste contained levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other toxic metals that were upwards of 12,000 times those considered safe for human consumption, as Off The Grid News previously reported. The river turned orange.
The leak threatened water supplies to several cities, including Durango (Colorado) and Farmington (New Mexico), as well as the Navajo nation. It disrupted the tourism economy by shutting down river rafting, and it threatened irrigation that the Navajo depend upon for agriculture.
Bishop is one of several EPA critics who contend that the agency deliberately breached the dam as part of its cleanup efforts. They allege that EPA contractors intended to slowly drain the dam but didn’t realize what would happen if they did that.
EPA officials, including the agency’s leader, Gina McCarthy, have called the breach “tragic and unfortunate.”
EPA Planned to Breach the Mine
Bishop’s claims are supported by an email in which EPA officials admitted they planned to cause the breach, the Daily Caller News Foundation alleged.
“The EPA’s plan was to slowly drain and treat enough mine water in order to access the inner mine working and assess options for controlling its discharge,” an attachment to the email reads. “While removing small portions of the natural plug, the material catastrophically gave-way and released the mine water.”
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EPA contractors apparently were trying to use a backhoe to remove dirt from the dam so water would drain away and its crews could enter the mine. Critics say EPA contractors did not conduct adequate tests on the pressure at the site.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, the cabinet member who oversees the EPA, denied Bishop’s allegations during Congressional testimony March 1.
Lawsuits Are Coming
Both the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico intend to sue the agency for damages caused by the spill.
Some critics are also alleging that the EPA failed to do enough to clean up the mess.
“I was shocked,” said David C. Weindorf, the associate dean for research at Texas Tech’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. He testified at the US Senate hearing on the spill. “I was at the beach after the Deepwater Horizon spill, and there were guys all over the place in moon suits and contamination suits picking up stuff and washing it off. We went up and down the Animas River valley, and we didn’t see anybody, anywhere, doing anything. Nothing.
“It would be one thing if you looked for this stuff and you couldn’t see it because it was the same color as the sand, but you can see this just as plain as day. It’s a bright red sludge now, and it’s all over the riverbank,” Weindorf said, according to 5280, a Denver magazine.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has urged his people not to fill out EPA damage claims forms in order to make it easier to sue the federal government over the contamination.
“[The EPA] lied to us,” Begaye said after visiting the Gold King mine site. “I couldn’t believe what I saw.”
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