- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2016

A House committee investigative report released Thursday slammed the Environmental Protection Agency for the Animas River spill, attributing it to the crew’s sloppiness and accusing the Obama administration of deliberately concealing information about the accident.

The House Natural Resources Committee majority staff investigation accused the EPA and Interior Department of “incompetence and willful efforts to evade consequences,” the result being that they “cannot be trusted to spearhead remediation of sites like the Gold King Mine.”

“[I]t is clear that there is more to the Gold King Mine story than EPA and DOI have chosen to reveal,” said the report by the Republican majority staff.

The report also said the EPA-led crew should have measured the water level behind the debris at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, before breaching the plug on Aug. 5. An earlier technical review conducted by the Interior Department concluded that the crew had not tested the water pressure.

“Why the EPA crew did so and what they expected to happen remains unclear,” said the 73-page report, “however the direct result of their actions was the release of approximately 3 million gallons of contaminated mine water into Cement Creek and the Animas and San Juan Rivers.”

In addition, the committee faulted the three reports issued by the Obama administration, including the EPA’s own internal review and the Interior Department’s technical evaluation, saying that the reviews “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 spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said, “We’re going to take a look at the report and will respond appropriately.

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.

“Neither EPA nor DOI 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 House committee report said.

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

The report also accused the Interior Department of refusing to provide the committee with peer-review documents from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “raising questions about the administration’s commitment to transparency and the propriety of the federal government’s actions surrounding the spill.”

In addition, the EPA’s on-scene coordinator made a statement in October saying that he knew there was “some pressure” at the audit, according to the report, but his comment was not disclosed in the EPA’s December 2015 addendum.

The 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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