Home > newsroom > Page
Wall Street Journal: An Animas River Accounting
The EPA isn’t coming clean about mistakes in its toxic mine disaster this summer.

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 17, 2016 -

If a private company dumped three million gallons of toxic sludge into Colorado waterways, we’d be flooded with daily media updates for months. Yet the press has by now forgotten the disaster unleashed in August when EPA contractors punctured an abandoned mine. New evidence suggests the government isn’t coming clean about what happened.

The House Natural Resources Committee last week released a report detailing EPA’s cascade of failures that resulted in the Aug. 5 blowout of the Gold King Mine, which unloaded 880,000 pounds of metals into the nearby Animas River and other waters.

EPA planned its disastrous investigation of the mine for years, not that you’d know: The agency assumed a layout of the area that contradicted public records, including the remarkable conclusion that a drain ran near the ceiling of the mine’s entrance. This led EPA to believe that water backed up only about half the tunnel. The agency didn’t test the water pressure, a precaution that would have prevented the gusher. EPA hasn’t explained this decision, and emails obtained by the committee show the on-site coordinator knew there was “some pressure.”

The crew made more bad decisions than characters in a horror movie. About a week before the blowout, the on-site coordinator went on vacation and left instructions that his replacement seems to have ditched. For example: Don’t dig toward the tunnel floor unless you have a pump handy. The crew pressed downward without a pump and intentionally unearthed the mine’s plug. “What exactly they expected to happen remains unclear,” the report concludes. The Interior Department now euphemistically calls this series of events an “excavation induced failure.”

EPA is so far suggesting that no one committed crimes, and maybe so. But consider: EPA cranked out a report three weeks after the disaster and said the Interior Department would conduct an independent review that the Army Corps of Engineers would sign off on. EPA testified to the committee that Interior would look for wrongdoing, though Interior said the department was only offering technical support.

The reports from EPA and Interior include wild inconsistencies “some of which are not attributable to error and incompetence alone,” the House concludes. Interior says the crew hoped to drain water on that fateful day, but we know the team didn’t have the proper equipment. EPA provided only a doodled map as an explanation for the agency’s assumptions, one that someone drew after the blowout. There are also questions about Interior’s independence, as several of the department’s offices helped handle the aftermath—for example, dumping a billion gallons of water to dilute the toxic plume.

The Army Corps official tasked with checking Interior’s work expressed concerns with the findings, and he seems to have seriously considered refusing to sign the report, according to emails. We can only guess what he disputed, as Interior insisted on heavily redacting the correspondence. The committee still hasn’t received all the information it requested.

The committee’s report is a public service, even if it raises more questions than it answers. EPA wouldn’t tolerate ducking and deliberate obfuscation from the private businesses the government so routinely punishes, and the House should continue to hold the agency to the same standards.

Click HERE to read the article online.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

Latest News

Committee Leaders Request a 120-Day Extension to EPA’s Proposed Rule

On Friday, February 17, 2017, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman...... Read more

President Trump Signs Joint Resolution to Repeal Job-killing Stream Rule

Today, President Donald J. Trump signed H.J. Res 38 (Reps. Bill Johnson, R-OH, Evan Jenkins, R-WV, and David McKinley, R-WV), a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act relat...... Read more

House Passes CRA to Restore Alaskan Sovereignty and Local Management on Federal Wildlife Refuges

Today, the House passed H.J. Res. 69 sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-AK). This joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act will overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ...... Read more

View All News

Calendar

Oversight Hearing on Modernizing Western Water and Power Infrastructure in the 21st Century
Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans | 1324 Longworth House Office Building Washington D.C. 20515
View All Events