Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials improperly withheld information from The Daily Caller News Foundation confirming its reporting that the contractor responsible for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill was awarded nearly $2.7 million not long after the disaster.
The EPA internally acknowledged the award and crafted a response to TheDCNF’s finding, according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, but the response was never sent to the news organization. (RELATED: Feds Obstruct Media Probe By Blocking Interviews With Key Officials)
“It just slipped through the cracks,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison told TheDCNF 32 minutes after deadline. “It was a mistake on our behalf.”
The EPA response uncovered by TheDCNF defended the funding by claiming that the contractor was used for disaster assessments, rather than cleanup. (RELATED: Gold King Mine Spill Contractor Cashed In After The Disaster)
“EPA’s decision to reward the firm involved in the Gold King Mine disaster shows they’re more concerned about protecting themselves and their friends than the environment,” Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of transparency group Open The Books, told TheDCNF Thursday.
The contractor – Environmental Restoration LLC – excavated Gold King Mine at the direction of EPA officials, which caused a three-million-gallon flood of toxic waste to poison drinking water for three states and the Navajo Nation.
TheDCNF asked the EPA to explain the awards and gave the agency the opportunity to defend the funding. Agency officials responded internally almost immediately, but never provided comment for TheDCNF’s story, which was published nearly 39 hours later.
“The EPA itself is a Superfund site – sadly, it’s a cesspool of corruption, cronyism and incompetence,” Andrzejewski said. “In the real world, poor performance is punished but with the federal government it is too often tolerated and applauded. The EPA is one of the worst offenders.”
Agency spokeswoman Christie St. Clair sent TheDCNF’s inquiries to EPA’s Region 8, where the mine spill occurred. David Ostrander, an employee in Region 8’s Superfund office, forwarded the request to EPA On-Scene Coordinator Joni Sandoval on Nov. 10, at 11:01 a.m.
Ostrander’s forwarded email included a partial breakdown of the funds awarded to Environmental Restoration, as well as an explanation.
“The EPA had funded Environmental Restoration LLC to work on the Gold King Mine as an investigation phase, and not as an emergency or time-critical removal phase.” It’s unclear who wrote that sentence.
St. Clair later checked in with the team, but told TheDCNF she didn’t have an answer.
“I don’t have a response ready for you yet on ER LLC,” St. Clair wrote in an email to TheDCNF. “I do think we’ll have solid answers to your questions, including breakdowns of funding. Can you hold this story off until we can get you something? Hopefully tonight/tomorrow am, although with the holiday it may not be until Thurs. (I’ve been leaning on people to get it to me tonight.)”
That message was sent at 5:29 p.m. – six hours after Ostrander’s email – and was the last correspondence with TheDCNF regarding the story. TheDCNF held the story for an extra day.
Sandoval responded to Ostrander at 8:21 p.m. with a more thorough funding breakdown, but that was never sent to TheDCNF. The article was published at 12:07 a.m. on Nov. 12.
The EPA also did not respond to requests for comment on its failure to respond.
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