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House committee blasts feds for Colorado river disaster

The House Committee on Natural Resources slammed the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior Thursday in a report on the blowout at Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, last August that spilled almost three million gallons of waste water into surrounding rivers. 

The 73-page report said EPA errors led directly to the blowout, and that both the EPA and Interior's post-disaster reviews were slipshod, self-serving and inadequately transparent. Alleging that both the EPA and the Department of the Interior (DOI) are responsible for conflicting, misleading and missing information, the committee called for further investigation.

“EPA’s acts at the site are indefensible,” the report said. “The incompetence and willful effort to evade consequences documented in this report demonstrate that EPA and DOI cannot be trusted to spearhead remediation of sites like the Gold King Mine.”

The House report lambasted the three reports issued by the EPA following the incident, saying they offered "shifting accounts of the events leading up to the blowout," and contained numerous errors. 

The report further stressed that the DOI Technical Review was “nonsensical,” while citing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “serious reservations” about the review. Furthermore, the report questioned the DOI’s commitment to transparency by refusing to release documents and emails addressing the Corps of Engineers’ concerns.

“When government actions result in harm, it’s our duty to know who was responsible and why decisions failed," committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) said. "They haven’t been forthcoming in this regard." 

The report detailed the events that led up to an EPA crew intentionally digging into a plug at the mine, which released contaminated water into Cement Creek, and the Animas and San Juan rivers.

It explained that for more than a year, the EPA planned the 2015 work at the mine based on unfounded and incorrect assumptions - including incorrectly concluding that the floor of the mine was six feet below the area containing the waste dump. The report also said that the EPA failed to conduct hydrostatic testing before  excavation, which would have documented the pressure buildup at the mine that caused the blowout.

“Three reports, numerous hearings, and six months later, there is still no explanation for the EPA’s failure to conduct hydrostatic testing before excavating,” the report said.

The report concluded by explaining that the EPA violated two federal laws: the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

“While the Committee’s findings to date are documented in this report, many questions remain — some of which may only be answered through litigation and criminal charges,” the report said. “The most substantive message from the Gold King Mine disaster is that there is one standard for the governed and another for the governors.”