An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) crew spilled three million gallons of toxic waste from Colorado’s Gold King Mine into western rivers one year ago Friday, but little has since come from the disaster other than expanding government.
“One year and countless shifting stories from the Obama Administration later, communities impacted by the EPA-caused blowout at the Gold King Mine have more questions than answers,” Committee on Natural Resources spokeswoman Molly Block told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Department of the Interior “and EPA have stonewalled Congress, the press and the public.”
The spill ultimately poisoned drinking water for three states and the Navajo Nation with 880,000 pounds of dangerous metals like lead and arsenic.
No one has been fired or punished for the incident, a criminal probe is still underway and an inspector general report was postponed. Meanwhile, the EPA has continued its work in the region and locals caved to the agency’s long-running pressure to make the region a Superfund site – a destination that would give officials additional funding and power over the local economy.
“I’m just disheartened,” Gold King Mine owner Todd Hennis told TheDCNF. “I didn’t have much faith in the EPA before the spill and my faith has not increased.”
The EPA forced Hennis to grant officials access to his land, despite his fear the agency would cause a blowout. (RELATED: Gold King Mine Owner Fears EPA’s ‘Limitless Legal Budget’)
He added that Americans “can’t feel comfortable” that their government will hold itself accountable.
“I frankly despair that there will be no results from the investigation,” Hennis said, comparing it to the FBI’s decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified material on her private server.
Evidence uncovered by congressional and media investigations have compiled overwhelming evidence against the EPA:
- Officials made critical errors leading up to the spill, such as forgoing pressure tests;
- The crew intentionally breached the mine, violating orders not to penetrate Gold King without specific equipment on site;
- The EPA called the spill an accident, but emails show the crew breached the mine to relieve pressure; and
- The agency crew appeared to have prepped the site for a spill.
There are even arguments that the EPA intentionally spilled the mine waste to secure a Superfund site.
“Was it only negligence or was it intentional to have a spill happen to create a Superfund site?” Hennis said. “If you wanted to have a Superfund site in the San Juan, nothing could make it easier than this.”
And The EPA’s response to the spill suggested a cover up. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Feds’ ‘Deception’ Hides The True Cause Of The Gold King Mine Disaster)
Agency officials selected the Department of the Interior (DOI) to conduct an “independent” review of the spill, for example. Numerous DOI agencies were heavily involved at Gold King Mine and the surrounding regions. (RELATED: EPA Accused This Agency Of Gold King Mine Pollution, Then Asked Them To Independently Investigate)
Additionally, the Army Corps of Engineers – a truly independent agency – was mysteriously stripped of most of its review authority at the last minute.
Even the EPA’s involvement leading up to the spill were questionable. The agency used scare tactics in an attempt to coerce a nearby town to accept a Superfund designation years before the spill.
“San Juan County, the elected officials, I think, regret caving into Superfund under enormous pressure from the state of Colorado and other parties,” Hennis said.
The EPA also argues decades of mine waste have made Animas River tributaries uninhabitable for fish. Yet the agency’s own report contradicts that claim, admitting that it’s possible aquatic life could never live in those creeks.
“It all comes down to the issues of power for the EPA and budget,” Hennis said.
The EPA declined to comment and instead pointed to its retrospective report published July 29. That too, however, had inconsistencies.
The report, for example, said the EPA took “planning precautions as if [Gold King Mine] were pressurized.”
But the agency did not actually test for pressure and dug into the mine’s plug without water draining equipment on site.
“The EPA site supervisor deliberately ignored written instructions to have a stinger and pipe on site before attempting to open up the portal at Gold King,” Hennis said, citing a Natural Resources committee investigation.
The EPA has also spent more than $29 million responding to the spill, TheDCNF previously reported. Yet Navajo Nation farmers still haven’t been compensated for their losses from the disaster, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said, the Navajo-Hopi Observer recently reported.
Meanwhile, private companies responsible for spills similar to the EPA’s Gold King Mine disaster likely would have faced heavy fines and even jail time.
“The government, for whatever reason, is treating itself more favorably than it would a private party,” Paul Larkin, a former federal attorney who now works for the conservative Heritage Foundation, previously told TheDCNF’s Michael Bastach. “If these were private parties they would have opened a criminal investigation.”
New Mexico has since filed lawsuits against the EPA, Colorado, mine owners (not including Hennis), and the EPA contractor working at Gold King Mine.
The Navajo Nation and local officials did not respond to requests for comment.
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