House Republicans are unhappy with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s role in the Aug. 5 spill of 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River. House Science, Space & and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) says that EPA should be held accountable for the incident. 

Speaking at a Sept. 9 committee hearing, Smith said, “The same standards that the EPA applies to private companies should also apply to the EPA itself.” He said that established procedures could have prevented the accident. More congressional hearings on the spill are scheduled in coming weeks.

Mathy Stanislaus, who heads EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Management, testified that agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has already said EPA is accountable for the spill. He also said that the agency is awaiting results of investigations by the Dept. of Interior and EPA’s own inspector general before it draws definitive conclusions or recommends other actions.
Stanislaus added, “I think we’ve been as transparent as we possibly could.”

The committee’s top Democrat, Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), noted that spills into the Animas River are not rare, saying that local mines release approximately 300 million gal. of acid waste into the Animas watershed each year.

Durango, Colo., Mayor Dean Brookie, said that the August spill “put a Technicolor spotlight on a massive and complex century-old problem that our communities have lacked the resources to address.” 

Stanislaus said EPA is discussing with local community members the possibility of designating the watershed as a Superfund site. That would allow the area to be eligible for federal cleanup funds.

EPA officials were at the mine site, investigating how best to address acid drainage from the Gold King Mine, when the blowout occurred. An Aug. 24 report, based on EPA’s investigation, showed that the team on site underestimated the amount of pressurized water in the mine (ENR 09/07/15, p. 11).
EPA also said it did not require its contractors to have an adequate emergency response contingency plan in case of a blowout.