Energy & Environment

Interior chief defends agency’s investigation into mine spill

Animas River, EPA, Colorado, mine waste
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The head of the Interior Department is defending her agency’s investigation into a summer mine spill in Colorado.

Republicans, led by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), charged during a Wednesday hearing that the Interior Department couldn’t conduct an unbiased and independent investigation into the August mine waste spill.

{mosads}Bishop noted that the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), a branch of the Interior Department, was involved in the clean-up at the Gold King Mine site while also managing the federal investigation into the technical causes of the incident.

“BOR went from being a technical consultant back to an investigator then back to a technical consultant in a matter of days,” Bishop said during a committee hearing on Wednesday.

Bishop also noted that the bureau does work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was partly responsible for the spill.

“How can you say this report is even remotely independent when the lead author is working with EPA and has been doing so for some time before he started his investigation?”

But Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the office charged with conducting the report — the Technical Service Center — does such a minuscule amount of work for the EPA that it was able to conduct an appropriate review of the incident.

“I know EPA wanted to get to the bottom of what happened, technically, at Gold King Mine and they looked for people of that expertise,” she said. “The work of the Technical Services Center is very broad. Half of a percent or so is for the EPA.”

A team of EPA and Colorado engineers triggered a blowout at the abandoned Gold King Mine in August, sending 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas River.

Interior’s report into the incident, released in October, found that EPA did not fully understand the complexity of the abandoned mine before conducting its work there. But it also faulted decades of environmental problems, prevalent at other abandoned mines, for contributing to the spill.

Republicans have conducted a string of hearings into the spill, its causes and the Obama administration’s response.

Jewell said Interior’s work, both immediately after the incident and during the course of its investigation, was “robust.”

“These actions and those by other bureaus were instrumental in providing coordination and support to EPA during its continued response,” she said Wednesday.

Tags Animas River spill Interior Department Rob Bishop Sally Jewell
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