An Environmental Protection Agency manager’s recent retirement shields him from federal investigators probing who was responsible for the August 2015 Gold King Mine disaster and protects him from potential punishment, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.
The agency’s on-scene coordinator for Gold King Mine, Steve Way, made a classic EPA move by retiring before an inspector general (IG) investigation is completed. That means the EPA can’t punish Way, and the IG can’t force him to testify. Instead, Way will receive full retirement benefits.
While the IG “cannot compel a retired federal employee to speak with us, we can always ask and often an individual will agree,” IG spokeswoman Jennifer Kaplan told TheDCNF. “Our program evaluation team has not made a determination that Mr. Way’s retirement will affect any ongoing work.”
The Inspector General Empowerment Act, which is pending in Congress, would give the IG authority to subpoena non-federal employees, including those who retired from government service. (RELATED: Reid Blocks Measure Giving Federal Watchdogs More Muscle)
An EPA crew breached Colorado’s Gold King Mine and unleashed a flood of three million gallons of toxic waste into the Animus River that supplies drinking water for three states and the Navajo Nation. The IG is conducting both a criminal investigation and a program evaluation of the spill.
Way is likely a central figure in the IG probe, given that numerous other investigations have focused on his involvement at the site even though he was away on vacation the day of the disaster. Way’s temporary replacement, Hays Griswold, was following Way’s written orders when the EPA crew breached the mine, according to an EPA report.
The EPA, however, has obscured numerous details about the disaster, including who gave the order to excavate the mine, TheDCNF previously reported. The EPA report, for example, stemmed from an interview between agency officials and Way and Griswold, which the House Committee on Natural Resources said impeded the IG’s investigation. (RELATED: Is EPA Trying To Sabotage Its Gold King Mine Blowout Investigation?)
Way is not alone as other EPA officials have notoriously retired ahead of the IG completing investigations as a method to skirt punishment and still collect their retirement benefits.
One EPA employee, for example, was able to retire, even though the IG found the official had drank on the job for several years. (RELATED: Porn, Weed, DUIs All In A Day’s Anonymous ‘Work’ At EPA)
Consequently, Way can’t be punished no matter what the IG concludes, unless the Department of Justice prosecutes him. The Justice Department, however, frequently declines IG referrals for prosecution, TheDCNF previously found. (RELATED: Porn, Prostitution And Bribes: 8 Times The DOJ Let Bad Bureaucrats Off The Hook)
Meanwhile, the EPA has claimed it will hold itself accountable, yet no employees have been punished nearly a year after the disaster. Agency officials have previously said they are waiting for the IG’s report before taking any punitive measures. (RELATED: Senators Call For Criminal Probe Of EPA’s Gold King Mine Disaster)
The EPA did not respond to TheDCNF’s requests for comment.
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