Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the Gold King Mine blowout that happened exactly two years ago.
“EPA should be held to the same standard as those we regulate,” Pruitt said in a statement ahead of his visit to the mine site outside Silverton, Colo. “The previous Administration failed those who counted on them to protect the environment.”
Pruitt visited the Gold King site Thursday where exactly two years ago EPA contractors breached the mine and released 3 million gallons of wastewater and heavy metals into nearby waterways.
The orange plume of mine waste eventually made its way into the San Juan River, which runs through Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Navajo Nation. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy took responsibility for the spill, but never visited the collapsed mine.
The Obama administration and Congress investigated the mine spill, but no employees or contractors have been punished or charged. In fact, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group recently learned federal investigators were keeping information on the Gold King Mine probe secret.
Pruitt will tour the collapsed mine and attend a town hall meeting in nearby Durango. The EPA chief also called for “a new review” of claims made against the EPA for compensation on the spill.
Utah filed an administrative claim in February seeking $1.9 billion in compensation for the spill. Navajo Nation filed a $162 million claim against EPA in 2016, including $3.1 million in uncompensated costs and $159 million to pay for new water supplies and monitoring.
New Mexico filed suit against EPA in May 2016, arguing the agency and its contractors were “grossly negligent” in their cleaning up of the mine and violated federal environmental laws.
Under McCarthy, EPA spent $29 million cleaning up the mine spill, but only agreed to pay out $4.5 million to state and local governments. EPA rejected $20.4 million in additional claims filed by state and tribal governments.
The Obama administration rejected 79 claims against the EPA in January, and by March paid about $90,000 in reimbursements for claims that had been filed before December 2016.
In July, Pruitt ordered EPA to review claims the Obama administration had rejected. The agency is now working through 144 claims filed against them.
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