Lawmakers schedule new hearings on EPA mine waste spill

Three congressional committees announced plans Friday to hold hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mine waste spill in Colorado earlier this month.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold its hearing Sept. 16, it said Friday.

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The next day, the House Oversight Committee and House Natural Resources Committee will conduct a joint hearing on the incident.

The announcement follows the House Science Committee’s decision a week ago to hold a hearing Sept. 9 on the spill at the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo.

Congressional Republicans have jumped on the Aug. 5 spill as an opportunity to sharply criticize the Obama administration’s EPA and paint it as a hypocritical organization that holds itself to a much lower standard than the companies it regulates.

The GOP, along with lawmakers from the areas affected by the spill and local leaders, have also castigated the EPA for what they see as a slow response to the incident and an extreme lack of transparency afterward.

EPA administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group Overnight Energy: Automakers group sides with Trump in emissions lawsuit | Latest on California wildfires | Walden won't seek reelection | Park Service scraps plan to charge protesters for security MORE will be the sole witness at the Senate hearing, which Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon watchdog says Syria withdrawal hurt ISIS fight | Vindman testifies on third day of public hearings | Lawmakers to wrap up defense bill talks this week Lawmakers expect to finish defense policy bill negotiations this week Bipartisan senators urge national security adviser to appoint 5G coordinator MORE (R-Okla.) said was called at the request of the senators representing Colorado and New Mexico.

“It is important for this committee, the agency, and the public to know what exactly went wrong leading up to Aug. 5 and in the days that followed,” Inhofe said in a statement.

“Many questions remain unanswered since the disaster,” he continued. “The hearing will examine the immediate and long-term environmental and economic impacts to the states, local communities, and Indian tribes as a result of the spill.”

The House committees said they have not confirmed any witnesses for their hearing, although they have invited McCarthy, Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE, a representative of the Navajo Nation and representatives of Colorado and New Mexico.

Jewell’s responsibilities include both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Reclamation, which is conducting an outside review of the spill. The Navajo and Ute American Indian tribes have reservations that contain waterways downstream from the mine that were affected by the pollution.

The EPA has taken responsibility for the spill, in which an EPA contractor accidentally released 3 million gallons of mine waste containing poisonous heavy metals into a tributary of the Animas River, turning it bright orange temporarily. No harm to humans or wildlife has been confirmed.

Reports and documents the EPA has released since the spill show that the agency knew at least a year in advance of the risk of a blowout at the site.

They also showed that the EPA and Colorado mining regulators believed that the fluid pressure at the site was much lower than it turned out to be, a discrepancy that the agency believes to be the most significant factor leading to the disaster.