- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2016

An internal email unearthed by House Republicans shows that the Environmental Protection Agency on-site coordinator knew that there was “a lot of water” behind the plug at the Gold King Mine — but didn’t check to see how much before removing loose dirt.

“I personally knew it could be holding back a lot of water, and I believe the others in the group knew as well,” said EPA on-site coordinator Hays Griswold in an Oct. 28 email.

The result was the Animas River spill, an ecological and public-relations nightmare that sent 3 million gallons of contaminated orange wastewater into Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

In a report released Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee detailed a series of EPA missteps that led to the Aug. 5 accident, including erroneous assumptions about the location of the waste, a lack of communication between the on-site coordinators, and the head-scratching decision not to check the mine for water pressure.

“Neither EPA nor [the Interior Department] has offered a substantive explanation of EPA’s decision to forego hydrostatic testing — a precautionary measure which, if it had been conducted, could have revealed that the mine was pressurized and prevented the blowout,” the 73-page report said.

“In fact, the agencies have not even provided documentation that EPA actually considered testing the pressure prior to beginning work,” said the report.

The report, prepared by the Republican-led majority staff, also accuses the EPA and Interior of deliberately concealing information from the committee. For example, the Oct. 28 email by Mr. Griswold was not included in the EPA’s December addendum to the committee.

EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said in a statement Thursday, “We’re going to take a look at the report and will respond appropriately.”

Reaction from Colorado Republicans was swift. Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents the southwest Colorado region where the spill occurred, said the report shows the EPA “deliberately misled the public.”

“The EPA has been caught deliberately deceiving the public in order to cover up the fact that it was aware of the risks at the Gold King Mine and yet did nothing, leading to the disaster. This is an outrage that cannot go unpunished,” said Mr. Tipton in a statement.

“There must be severe consequences for those involved in the deception and those who were aware of the dangers at the Gold King Mine and were willfully negligent,” he said.

Former Colorado state Rep. Jon Keyser, who’s seeking the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, said it was “criminal that the EPA knew the possibility of a tragic spill existed, failed to take the proper precautions, then caused the tragedy at Gold King Mine.”

The report also faulted the post-spill analyses undertaken by the Obama administration, saying the EPA internal review and Interior Department technical review “offer shifting accounts of the events leading up to the spill and contain numerous errors, omissions, and inconsistencies.”

Some of those “are not attributable to error or incompetence alone,” said the report’s executive summary.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has apologized on behalf of the agency for the spill and pledged to clean up the resulting contamination, while other officials have pointed out that the agency was attempting to clean up a mess it did not create.

At a Dec. 9 committee hearing, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell insisted the EPA had been held accountable, although she admitted that nobody had been fired or demoted over the spill. She also said she did not know who made the decision to clear the debris without testing the water level.

The House committee’s Democrats have called for additional funding to facilitate the clean-up of thousands of leaking and abandoned mines, some left over from the Gold Rush days, that pepper the West.

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