Democrats are joining Republicans in a bipartisan effort to hold the EPA accountable for spilling millions of gallons of toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine into rivers used for drinking water.
Lawmakers from across the political divide introduced an amendment Monday to a water infrastructure bill addressing the massive costs associated with the spill that released three million gallons of wastewater that poisoned waterways in Colorado, Nevada, Utah and the Navajo Nation.
The spill dumped more than 880,000 pounds of toxic elements — like lead and arsenic — into the water.
Republican Sens. Cory Gardner, Orrin Hatch and John McCain, and Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet, Tom Udall, and Martin Heinrich introduced the amendment.
“The EPA is responsible for the Gold King Mine spill, and therefore I’ll fight to hold the agency fully liable and to the same standard as a private company,” said Gardner, who spearheaded the amendment’s push.
It would also force the EPA to work with those areas hurt by the spill to implement a, “long-tem water quality monitoring program of the rivers contaminated by the spill.”
The amendment was included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a $9.4 billion waterways bill providing emergency funding for citizens in Flint, Mich., harmed by the city’s lead crisis.
President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy initially called the Gold King Mine spill an accident.
McCarthy said the spill was an “unfortunate accident” in a 2015 speech. The EPA head changed her tune shortly thereafter, avoiding labeling the spill an “accident” in her prepared testimony before House lawmakers in September, 2015, instead calling the spill an “unfortunate incident.”
EPA officials have been more circumscribed in their references to the Gold King Mine. The agency has a long history of practicing avoidance procedures when taken to task for mistakes and accidents.
Senior EPA officials in 2015, for instance, largely ignored complaints by 16 women — mostly employees — accusing one agency official of sexual harassment. The employee got promoted despite the complaints.
It found itself roiled in another scandal in May, 2015, when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing showing that the EPA paid a registered sex offender to retire, rather than terminating his employment.
He was fired in 2014 for violating his probation, but the Merit Systems Protection Board reinstated him, according to EPA inspector general records. The employee was paid $55,000 to resign in 2015.
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