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EPA chief to visit Colorado mine spill site
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday is set to visit the site of a massive mine waste spill that the agency caused under his predecessor's leadership.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed his plan to visit the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., on a local news station Friday morning.
Pruitt has frequently cited the 2015 spill, for which then-EPA head Gina McCarthy took responsibility, as an example of what he sees as failures of the agency under former President Obama.
Republicans have long used Gold King to argue that the Obama EPA failed at environmental protection, often because it chose to focus on fighting climate change.
Saturday marks the second anniversary of the spill. An EPA contractor accidentally breached a mine entrance with high-pressure waste behind it, unleashing 3 million gallons of sludge with toxic substances including arsenic and cadmium into the Animas River, closing it and downstream rivers for days.
"The previous administration, the Obama administration, did not show up. Neither the president nor the vice president came to this site right after it occurred," Pruitt told Denver's Fox 25.
McCarthy, however, visited the site days after the incident.
"If anyone else had done what the EPA did under Obama with respect to this spill, they would likely have been put in jail," Pruitt said.
"What happened here is the EPA walked away. And so we're here to listen to voices, make sure that we make things right with folks in Colorado and address the harm that's occurred."
Pruitt said his agency has invited individuals, companies, governments and others to re-submit damage claims to the EPA if they were rejected previously, and they will be reconsidered.
"The past administration just said, 'Look, we're not going to take any responsibility,' and just walked away. This administration is saying, 'We're going to come to Colorado, show up and make sure the voices are heard,' " he said.
Claimants had previously submitted $1.2 billion in damages, but have since reduced that to around $420 million, according to an Associated Press analysis earlier this year.
The EPA under Obama paid out millions of dollars to local governments, property owners, American Indian tribes and others.
The Trump administration has continued the Obama administration's argument that sovereign immunity prevents the EPA from being held legally responsible and being forced to pay out claims it does not want to make.
In a June report, the EPA's inspector general concluded that agency workers acted within the law and reasonably before, during and after the spill.