- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

DENVER | The EPA’s massive toxic spill triggered fallout Tuesday from Republicans as presidential hopeful Ben Carson visited the site, and a key congressman disclosed that at least two House committees are planning to investigate the incident.

Rep. Scott R. Tipton, the Colorado Republican who represents the site of the 3 million-gallon blowout at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, told news outlets that Republican-led House committees intend to hold the agency accountable for the Aug. 5 accident.

“Based on conversations that have taken place between Congressman Tipton and his colleagues, as well as at the staff level, a number of House committees will likely be moving forward with hearings and investigations into the EPA’s involvement with the contamination of the Animas River,” Tipton spokesman Joshua Green told The Washington Times.

Those panels include the House Natural Resources and House Energy and Commerce committees, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Carson became the first Republican presidential candidate to visit the area following the spill, which he addressed in a speech at Rotary Park in Durango that drew a crowd of about 2,000.

“Under my administration, you wouldn’t have to sue the EPA, because I would get rid of all the old people and bring in people who understand the Constitution,” Mr. Carson said in The Durango Herald.

The candidate’s appearance drew a rebuke from left-wing ProgressNow-Colorado, which accused Mr. Carson of using the disaster “to grandstand and misrepresent the EPA’s work,” but Republicans argue that the accident raises troubling questions about the agency’s competence.

The comments by Mr. Tipton, made first in an editorial board meeting with The Durango Herald, come as the most extensive to date on a congressional response to the blowout at the inactive mine.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General announced Monday that it will investigate the accident.

The EPA also announced Tuesday that the Interior Department will lead an “independent assessment of the factors that led to the Gold King Mine incident.” The review is expected to take 60 days and began Tuesday, meaning that the assessment would be concluded on Oct. 17.

Mr. Tipton also fired off a letter Tuesday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with 15 questions on the spill that contaminated the Animas and San Juan rivers with orange, acidic waste.

The questions in the letter, signed by 29 House Republicans, center on the agency’s 24-hour delay prior to contacting local and state authorities, as well as requests for more information on how the accident occurred and how the EPA plans to hold those involved responsible.

“We remain completely unsatisfied with the delay in notifying the impacted communities and elected officials responsible for preparing and responding to a disaster such as this one,” said the letter.

House Resources Committee spokesman Braden Parish said he had no additional information on the committee’s plans to investigate the spill.

The chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, issued a statement Aug. 12 in which he said the committee “will be conducting extensive oversight over the causes and the short-term and long-term effects of this serious situation.”

The spill moved quickly into New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, and has since been detected in Utah at Lake Powell, although in much less concentrated amounts.

Officials in La Plata County, Colorado, and San Juan County, New Mexico, have reopened the river for drinking, farming and recreation, although the Navajo Nation is awaiting its own testing results before clearing the water for humans and livestock.

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