Gina McCarthy and the rest of the people at the Environmental Protection Agency should be thanking their lucky stars for Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi testimony. The report from the Department of the Interior on the causes of the Gold King Mine spill that released millions of gallons of heavy metal laced water into the Upper Animas River in Colorado was released on the day of it. The report laid the blame for the spill solely at the EPA’s door.
The EPA had claimed that the August 5 spill near Silverton, Colorado was “likely inevitable,” but research carried out by the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation disagreed. The spill released arsenic, mercury, lead and other contaminants into the Animas River and thousands of drinking water wells as far as 100 miles away, creating a natural disaster.
Hasty operations by the EPA were the sole cause, the Interior report concluded. The Gold King Mine burst because the EPA had neglected to check its water levels before excavating the already weakened, oozing mine entrance. Though the EPA had acknowledged some risk of a blowout in June 2014, the dangers had been building for decades. Despite the fact that mining companies had redirected water flow through the cavernous mines, causing it to build up, Interior officials say the spill could have still been avoided if the EPA had done its due diligence.
What the EPA did NOT do was check the water level in the mine by boring a hole into it from above. Instead, they opened the mine at a place that served as a dam keeping all the contaminated water at bay. That is what caused the blowout. At least one geologist did report that such a blowout was inevitable, and the EPA helped it along.
The Interior report stopped short of assigning fault to any individuals, despite prior claims from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that it would determine fault and any negligence.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican whose district includes the Gold King, called the report disturbing in part because it revealed the EPA lacked the technical expertise to address the complexity of the mine. “Obviously a glaring weakness,” Tipton said.
While this episode does not by any means bring the full issue of the old gold mines in the American west contaminating the river systems to the attention of the people with the idea that the EPA is useless, it does highlight that they can be and are grossly negligent and don’t use common sense when approaching problems that are well documented as being potentially dangerous. That alone deserves scrutiny.