EPA Chief Plans Japan Trip As Congress Demands She Answer For The Toxic Mine Spill

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced she’ll be traveling to Japan later this month to talk about global warming just as Congress is demanding she testify about the agency-caused toxic waste spill in Colorado that happened earlier this month.

“After spilling millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Animas River, the EPA has an obligation to be forthcoming about what went wrong and potential long-term impacts on local communities,” Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith said in a release, demanding McCarthy appear before the House science committee to answer lawmakers’ questions about the spill.

About two weeks ago, EPA workers using heavy equipment to stem wastewater from leaking out of the Gold King Mine in Colorado broke a water-retention wall and unleashed three million gallons of toxic waste, including arsenic and lead, into the Animas River.

The bright orange toxic plume released by the EPA has traveled hundreds of miles into New Mexico and Utah, contaminating river water and forcing locals to rely on EPA shipments of water for drinking and irrigation. The agency says water quality has returned to pre-spill levels, but state officials have urged locals not to drink the river water as they assess the long-term impacts of the mine waste.

Congress has already demanded the EPA give regular updates on the spill cleanup efforts, and the EPA inspector general’s office has launched an investigation into how the spill occurred and the agency’s response. But that’s not enough, and now lawmakers want McCarthy herself to answer for the spill.

“Weeks after the spill, families and businesses who depend on the Animas River continue to deal with uncertainty and limited information,” Smith said. “As the agency entrusted by the American people to protect the environment and ensure the nation’s waters are clean, the EPA should be held to the highest standard. The Science Committee needs to hear from the EPA about steps it is taking to repair the damage and to prevent this from ever occurring again.”

The hearing is set to take place in early September, about 10 days after McCarthy is set to return from Japan, where she’ll be talking with Japanese officials about international efforts to curb air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. She’ll host a tea with female environmentalists in the country.

McCarthy is also set to talk about the agency’s Clean Power Plan, likely in an effort to show Japanese officials the U.S. is serious about tackling global warming. The Obama administration wants to convince other countries to sign a global deal to fight global warming at the United Nations climate summit in Paris later this year.

McCarthy’s trip to Japan occurs while tensions flare between federal officials and locals living along spill-affected waterways. Navajo Nation has filed suit against the Obama administration over the spill and now claims the agency was supplying tribal members with tainted irrigation water.

State officials are also furious with the EPA over the spill and demand the agency be held accountable for dumping toxic waste into rivers. At least one Utah lawmaker has suggested the EPA intentionally spilled waste from the Gold King Mine to get the area declared as a Superfund site.

State attorneys general were also frustrated with the EPA for not sharing certain information about the spill, including the federal contractor working on the mine when the waste was released. Eventually, the identity of the contractor was made public by The Wall Street Journal, not the EPA.

The EPA says that water quality levels have returned to pre-spill conditions in New Mexico, but state officials are wary about the long-term effects the spill will have on public health.

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