Gov’t Watchdog To Investigate EPA’s Massive Toxic Waste Spill

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The EPA inspector general’s office has announced it will investigate the agency-caused mine spill in Colorado earlier this month. The spill resulted in millions of gallons of toxic waste reaching rivers in Colorado and New Mexico.

“We will request documents, and interview relevant managers and staff in these locations and elsewhere as necessary,” the IG’s office wrote in a letter to EPA officials. “Throughout the project, as appropriate, we will provide updates on a regular basis. In carrying out this work, the [IG] will take all reasonable efforts to minimize disruption to the EPA’s ongoing response work.”

Earlier this month, EPA workers broke through a retaining wall with heavy equipment while working at the Gold King Mine. Ironically, the agency was working in the area to stem the flow of hazardous mining waste into nearby waterways, but instead the agency ended up spilling 3 million gallons of it into the Animas River. That plume of toxic waste spread into more rivers, causing Colorado and New Mexico to decrease a state of emergency.

The EPA IG’s decision to investigate the spill and the agency’s response comes after Republican lawmakers urged watchdogs look into the event to try and figure out exactly what happened and if the agency was doing anything wrong.

“In light of the committee’s findings with respect to EPA’s internal management failures, we are concerned that the agency is not well-positioned to conduct a competent internal review of this case,” Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote in a letter to the EPA’s IG. “The EPA should be held to the same benchmark that applies to those it regulates.”

The EPA’s spill was quickly criticized by federal and state officials. But what was more concerning was the agency’s response to the spill, as about a day passed before the EPA warned downriver states and native tribes of the spill, and it took nearly a week before Administrator Gina McCarthy went out to the area.

In its latest update of the spill, the EPA said that water quality levels had dramatically improved since the spill occurred. The EPA said river water in New Mexico was safe to drink and, in Colorado, the water was safe enough to be used for farming. Locals are skeptical of the EPA’s claims, and more than a few believe the agency intentionally spilled mine waste to get the region declared as a Superfund site, giving the EPA control over the area.

People living in southern Colorado have reason to be skeptical of the EPA’s claims. A good amount of mine waste has likely settled on the bottom of the Animas River, which could be easily stirred up in the future. Experts have concluded it could take decades to clean up mine waste in the San Juan River, which runs through Navajo country.

“It’s outrageous, reckless, and unacceptable that it’s been seven days since the EPA released 3 million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River and the federal agency still has few answers,” Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner said on news of the spill.

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