An in-depth congressional investigation into President Barack Obama’s administration’s handling of the Environmental Protection Agency-caused mine spill in Colorado has revealed some troubling inconsistencies in the government’s account of what happened.
Republican staffers on the House Committee on Natural Resources have been investigating the incident since EPA workers caused a blowout at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo. in August 2015.
Now, GOP staffers have released a 70-page report showing how federal agencies just can’t seem to get their story straight on what happened at Gold King Mine last year. The report claims EPA and the Interior Department have offered “shifting accounts of the events leading up to the spill and contain numerous errors, omissions, and inconsistencies, some of which are not attributable to error or incompetence alone.”
According to the committee’s report, neither EPA nor Interior reports on the mine blowout offer “a substantive explanation of EPA’s decision to forego hydrostatic testing – a precautionary measure which, if it had been conducted, could have revealed that the mine was pressurized and prevented the blowout.”
“In fact, the agencies have not even provided documentation that EPA actually considered testing the pressure prior to beginning work,” GOP staffers noted.
In August, EPA contractors dug into the Gold King Mine in an effort to stop it from leaking mine waste into nearby rivers. Ironically, EPA workers ended up causing a massive blowout and unleashed 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into the Animas River.
The toxic orange plume eventually made its way into the San Juan River, contaminating drinking and irrigation water for thousands of people.
“EPA intentionally dug into and breached the plug at the Gold King Mine on August 5, 2015,” the committee’s report noted. “Why the EPA crew did so and what they expected to happen remains unclear.”
The EPA did take responsibility for the spill, but was sharply criticized for its slow response. EPA officials did not warn states and local communities about the spill for a whole day, and federal officials withheld information on the spill from state attorneys general.
In fact, the EPA would not release the name of the federal contracting company responsible for breaching Gold King Mine. The Wall Street Journal exposed the company, Environmental Restoration LLC, in August. This company has since been awarded $2.7 million in EPA contracts.
The EPA, however, tried to downplay its role in the spill by issuing a report claiming a mine blowout was “likely inevitable.” Interior later contradicted EPA’s claim in a report claiming the blowout could have been avoided.
Neither EPA nor Interior have launched any criminal investigations into the spill, and congressional investigators have suggested EPA is trying to derail efforts by inspector general agents looking into the matter.
But even with all the stonewalling from EPA, House Republicans now have evidence of huge inconsistencies in the Obama administration’s handling of the spill. Both EPA and Interior withheld vital information about mistakes made by federal workers who caused the mine spill.
Republicans found “DOI’s Technical Evaluation and EPA’s Internal Review and Addendum, the EPA On-Scene Coordinator in charge of work at the time of the spill has stated that he knew there was at least ‘some pressure’ in the adit.”
“His statement was not disclosed in EPA’s December 2015 Addendum – even though he made the statement in an October 2015 email addressed to numerous other EPA officials, including one of the three individuals who produced the Addendum,” Republicans noted.
Likewise, Interior “concealed a critical EPA error regarding the elevation of the adit floor through misleading statements and distorted illustrations in its Technical Evaluation,” Republicans reported.
“DOI claimed that on August 5 EPA was carrying out a plan to remove water from the mine using a stinger and pump – although neither item was on-site on the day of the blowout,” according to the report.
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