Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy won’t be attending an Arizona field hearing on Earth Day about how the agency-caused mine blowout harmed Navajo tribal members living along the San Juan River.
McCarthy told senators Tuesday she won’t be attending the hearing, despite being subpoenaed by Republicans on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. In fact, McCarthy claimed she was never even invited to the hearing set for Friday.
“There may be some confusion, but I was never invited to this hearing,” she told lawmakers, adding that EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus would be going to the hearing, not her.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the committee’s chairman, was not happy with McCarthy’s answer, especially since he had not gotten anything official from EPA stating Stanislaus would attend the hearing.
“Communities want to know if their families will be safe,” Barrasso told her, adding that residents in Arizona and Colorado — where EPA workers caused a massive mine blowout in August — are angry with the agency.
“EPA stands for the Environmental Polluting Agency,” he said, referring to what some residents in the southwestern U.S. now call the agency.
McCarthy is technically right in that she was never invited to the hearing, but she was, in fact, subpoenaed by the Indian affairs committee after EPA refused to send any witness to attend in person. EPA was originally going to send written testimony on the Gold King Mine spill.
Not happy with EPA’s response, Sens. Barrasso and John McCain of Arizona and called for a subpoena on April 6 for McCarthy or Stanislaus to appear at the Arizona field hearing in order to hold agency officials accountable to Navajo Nation for contaminating their drinking water. Six days after their challenge, EPA said on April 12 it would send Stanislaus to speak on the agency’s behalf. The committee still sent a subpoena on April 13 to make sure EPA would actually send someone to the hearing.
McCarthy is the first person to be subpoenaed by the committee since lobbyist Jack Abramoff was called to testify about a decade ago.
EPA workers breached the Gold King Mine last August outside Silverton, Colo., and unleashed 880,000 pounds of toxic metals mixed in with 3 million gallons of mine wastewater. The spill sent an orange bloom down the Animas River and into the San Juan River, where it spread to Navajo lands.
Navajo tribesmen had their drinking and irrigation water shut off after the toxic plume reached portions of the San Juan River abutting their lands, and the tribe and federal officials have been extremely critical of the agency’s handling of the spill.
“It caused hundreds, maybe thousands of farmers to lose their crops and have their crops affected last season,” Mihio Manus, spokesman for the Navajo Nation’s president, told The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Ethan Barton in February.
“It affected the livelihood of these farmers,” Manus said. “A lot of farmers lost a lot of money.”
McCarthy said the EPA had reimbursed Navajo Nation $158,000 for the mine spill, but to date the agency has not launched a criminal investigation into the spill or paid any penalties. EPA officials have also not developed a plan to protect water quality in the San Juan River, despite fears Spring storms could churn up toxic metals.
If McCarthy attends the Earth Day field hearing, she won’t be able to attend the U.N. signing ceremony set to happen that day when world leaders are set to officially approve a global agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
McCarthy has spent much of her energy crafting and promoting the EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan, which is the Obama administration’s signature global warming regulation. McCarthy herself has said the CPP was more about garnering global support for a U.N. treaty than it was about addressing global warming.
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