Watchdog: EPA acted legally, reasonably in 2015 Colorado mine spill

Watchdog: EPA acted legally, reasonably in 2015 Colorado mine spill
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A Monday report from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General largely clears the agency for its actions surrounding the 2015 Gold King Mine spill in Colorado.

Investigators reviewed 16 different questions related to the Gold King spill and largely cleared the EPA in the disaster that caused 3 million gallons of mine waste sludge with toxic heavy metals to flow into a tributary of the Animas River.

The incident caused significant outrage against the EPA by local authorities and Republicans nationally, and the agency quickly took responsibility for it.

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“There was nothing unintentional about EPA’s actions,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOvernight Energy: GOP chairman has 'more questions' on Whitefish deal | Dems slam EPA science board changes | Industry pushes back on Perry grid plan GOP chairman has ‘more questions’ about Puerto Rico’s Whitefish Energy contract The SECURE American Energy Act only endangers public lands MORE (R-Utah) said last year at a hearing. “They fully intended to dig out the plug and breach it.”

More recently, EPA head Scott Pruitt has cited Gold King as a prime example of what he sees as failures by the Obama administration to protect the environment.

The inspector general report Monday found that there wasn’t likely very much the EPA could have done differently when its contractor accidentally removed material that was holding back mining waste at a high pressure, and in the response to the spill.

On the key question of whether the EPA should have done more to determine the pressure at the abandoned mine entrance, the report sided with the EPA workers involved.

“We found it reasonable that the EPA had not conducted direct testing of the water level or pressure during the removal site evaluation at Gold King Mine by the time of the release on August 5, 2015,” the report said.

“This was reasonable because of the interpretation of site conditions by the team, and because of safety risks, engineering challenges, unknown benefits, and high costs associated with drilling at the site.”

Investigators found that EPA, Colorado and contractor officials working on the site were “qualified, experienced individuals with relevant expertise.”

And the process the EPA used for notifying area officials and those downstream was also reasonable, investigators found.

“The EPA followed legal requirements, and current policies and guidelines in reporting the release. We found no delays in required EPA notifications,” they wrote.

After the incident, the EPA changed its policies to be more cautious around potential waste releases and to be faster and more efficient with notifications.

The investigators did not have any recommendations for additional policy or procedure changes.