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Press Release

Bishop Requests GAO Investigate Interior’s Obstructionist Tactics on Gold King Mine Spill

Following the oversight hearing on the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Role in the EPA’s Animas Spill where Secretary Sally Jewell testified but failed to substantively answer the Committee’s questions, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) requested an independent review from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) about the scope, objectivity, and thoroughness of the DOI report, entitled ‘Technical Evaluation of the Gold King Mine Incident.’  Chairman Bishop released the following statement following the hearing:

“The Department of the Interior’s stonewalling the Committee’s repeated requests for information on the agency’s report reached a disturbing level today when Secretary Jewell effectively refused to answer Congress’ concerns about the report’s objectivity and scope. DOI must be held accountable for its obstructionist tactics regarding its involvement and lack of objectivity surrounding this disaster that spilled 3 million gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River, affecting four states and multiple tribes. I hope the GAO report will shed light on areas that DOI refuses to answer.”

Specifically, the Committee asked the GAO to answer the following questions:

1.       How did the report come about?  Was the DOI’s agreement with EPA to produce the report memorialized?

2.       What was the agreed upon scope and structure of the DOI report?  Did the final report comport with EPA Administrator McCarthy’s publicly expressed descriptions of what the DOI report would cover?

3.       What was the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) evaluation team’s methodology (i.e., who did they interview, what documents did they review, etc.) and was it well-reasoned and thorough?

4.       Did the DOI report, conducted by the BOR  appropriately support assertions regarding the qualifications, role, and authority of involved state agencies?

5.       Did the BOR take steps to guard against any conflicts of interest among the evaluation team members and among the peer reviewers, and did the BOR properly follow its data quality and peer review selection requirements?

6.       Was the BOR report’s description and depiction of the mine portal, adit, and associated components such as drainage and observation pipes and supporting timbers accurate?

7.       Why did the BOR report exclude discussion of the following:

a.       How and why it was decided not to test the hydrostatic pressure prior to excavating the mine adit;

b.       How the assumed mine pool level was determined and whether the person who made such a determination or assumption was qualified to make this critical assessment;

c.       Whether the actions at the site were consistent with the planned course of action illustrated in a series of figures in the BOR report;

d.       Whether EPA had the ultimate authority and responsibility for choosing what actions were taken at the site; and

e.       Whether the actions at the site were consistent with Task Orders, Action Plans and schedules that had been prepared for the project?  If not, were actions taken inconsistent with contracting requirements and authorities?

Read the letter here.