Senators point fingers after EPA mine spill

Senators point fingers after EPA mine spill
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Senate Republicans and Democrats played the blame game on Wednesday at a hearing over last month’s massive mine spill in Colorado that turned a river bright orange.

While the GOP took Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyIt's time for Congress to address the 'forever chemical' crisis Overnight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage MORE to task for not properly preparing for a potential spill, Democrats argued mining companies and outdated laws caused the wastewater buildup that led to the disaster.

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The Wednesday hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was the first time that McCarthy has faced lawmakers for her agency’s role in the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine wastewater spill, in which heavy metals were dumped into a tributary of the Animas River, closing it for days.

“It is clear EPA knew that there was likely to be a significant amount of water behind the collapsed Gold King Mine entrance and that there was a risk of a blowout,” Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran Is the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? MORE (R-Okla.) said.

“Given these facts, it is unclear why EPA and the contractor did not exercise more care when working at the Gold King site.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who was invited to testify along with the rest of the Colorado and New Mexico Senate delegations, criticized the EPA’s immediate response to local concerns.

“Although the EPA has acknowledged the magnitude of this crisis, its initial lack of communication and coordination in events leading up to the spill are suitable for congressional oversight,” he said.

“It was not until Aug. 10 that the EPA established a unified command center in Durango. Along with confusion over EPA’s lack of notification, frustration began over the need for timely release of a simple, straightforward interpretation of the water quality monitoring data from the EPA.”

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanExclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Overnight Defense: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault MORE (R-Alaska) said there was a double standard, in which the EPA is holding private companies civilly or criminally liable for pollution, but going softer on itself.

“If you’re going to hold your agency to a higher standard than the private sector, you need to be aware of what you’ve done as an agency in the past,” he said.

Democrats used the hearing to call for a reform in the landmark mining law of 1872, which allows companies to mine for hard-rock minerals like gold and uranium on public land without paying royalties.

That missed revenue would help clean up mines, the Democrats said.

“What’s the revenue stream we need to put in place in order to ensure that we don’t see more accidents like this happen? We don’t have a revenue stream,” said Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyGreta Thunberg scolds Congress on climate action: 'I know you are trying but just not hard enough' Obama meets with Greta Thunberg: 'One of our planet's greatest advocates' Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight MORE (D-Mass.), who noted that President Ulysses S. Grant signed that mining law.

“You can’t have this bargain-basement giveaway sale anymore,” he said. “We need a revenue stream so that we can put programs in place to ensure that we can begin to work on the worst of these sites in a much more aggressive fashion.”

McCarthy, who has taken full responsibility for the spill, defended her agency’s actions.

“This was a tragic and unfortunate incident, and EPA has taken responsibility to ensure that we clean it up appropriately,” she said.

In the aftermath of the spill, “EPA and Colorado officials informed downstream jurisdictions in Colorado within hours of the release before the plume reached drinking water intakes and irrigation diversions, and notifications to other downstream jurisdictions continued the following day, allowing for those intakes to be closed prior to the plume’s arrival,” McCarthy said.

President Obama has called on Congress to charge royalties for hard-rock mining on federal land, and there are multiple pieces of legislation in Congress aimed at doing so.