Republican lawmakers said Thursday they will conduct their own probes of the Gold King Mine disaster that poured toxic yellow waste into rivers and creeks of three Western states and the Navajo Nation. Republicans are doing this since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to launch a criminal investigation.
No one has been held accountable five months after an EPA order prompted a contractor to accidentally release three million gallons of mine waste toxins into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River. Members of Congress are ready to step in and take names, just as they believe EPA would do if a private company had caused the spill.
“We’re continuing to press EPA and [the Department of the Interior] until we get the truth about the spill, and plan to release a committee report of our findings,” Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman [crscore]Jim Inhofe[/crscore] told The Daily Caller News Foundation through a spokeswoman. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, has led the panel since Republicans regained the Senate majority in 2014.
Similar attitudes are also heard on the House side.
“I worry that if Congress turns away from further investigation of this issue, the matter will be dropped,” House Committee on Natural Resources Vice Chairwoman [crscore]Cynthia Lummis[/crscore] told TheDCNF. The Wyoming Republican is also a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee chairwoman.
Arizona Rep. [crscore]Raúl Grijalva[/crscore], the top Democrat for the Natural Resources Committee, declined to comment on the need for a criminal investigation of the Gold King Mine disaster. The Arizonian did, however, introduce related legislation.
Grijalva’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Safety Act would “improve worker safety and protect the environment during abandoned mine clean ups,” but doesn’t mention holding guilty parties for future spills accountable.
The bill relies on the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation to review the Gold King Mine disaster, which was criticized by its Army Corps of Engineers peer reviewer.
The report “appeared to be nothing but a whitewash of the situation,” Lummis told TheDCNF. “I think that sort of demands that Congress continues to investigate it as well.”
Inhofe agreed, saying “it is important that a thorough and independent review be done of what caused the Gold King mine blowout and how EPA responded to hold those responsible to account. The so-called independent review that the Department of the Interior was asked to conduct was anything but, and DOI’s report raised a host of new questions about what happened and who was responsible for the spill.”
But Grijalva didn’t see Republicans’ criticism as attempts to hold the EPA accountable.
“Making a show of yelling at the Obama administration without proposing any serious, tangible follow-up – as some of my Republican colleagues have chosen to do – isn’t a meaningful response,” Grijalva said in a statement with the introduction of his bill.
But at issue is more than “yelling at the Obama administration.” It’s also a matter of the EPA’s hypocrisy in treating itself differently than when private companies are guilty of environmental disasters, according to Republicans.
“I think its important that a criminal investigation be opened,” Lummis told TheDCNF. “Based on EPA’s treatment of similar matters, when private citizens are involved, there have been criminal penalties including jail time. There seems to be a double standard.”
Some details, including the names of individuals responsible for the Gold King Mine disaster, may stay hidden without a criminal investigation, TheDCNF previously reported.
“We have been conducting our own oversight of the spill, and it is clear that the Obama administration is circling the wagons and not answering questions about why this spill occurred when it appears the spill could have been avoided,” Inhofe told TheDCNF through his spokeswoman.
“The same standards that are applied to private companies should also apply to the EPA,” House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman [crscore]Lamar Smith[/crscore] told TheDCNF. “In the days and months after the spill, the EPA has done everything in its power to cover its tracks and limit scrutiny.”
The Texas Republican said “EPA falsely claimed the spill was ‘inevitable,’ only to be contradicted by a report from the Obama administration’s own Interior Department. Then the agency posted a video online of the spill and censored the last few seconds where the team on the ground appears to flee the scene and ask, ‘What do we do now?’”
“This is an example of EPA’s relentless campaign to cover up their negligence,” Smith said. “The EPA was not prepared to deal with a spill and is still not prepared to accept responsibility.”
Smith’s Democratic counterpart, Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, declined to comment.
Additionally, Environmental Restoration LLC – the EPA contractor that caused the spill at Gold King Mine – refused to speak with the public, citing a nonexistent confidentiality agreement in its contract with the agency, TheDCNF previously reported.
“I fail to see how identifying EPA person on site as being covered by ‘work product,’” Lummis said. The EPA has claimed that a clause regarding “work product” secrecy – which is included in all its contracts – is grounds for confidentiality.
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