Senators subpoena EPA officials over mine waste spill

Senators subpoena EPA officials over mine waste spill
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The leaders of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee are acting to force a high-level Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official to testify at a hearing about last year’s mine waste spill in Colorado.

Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election MORE (R-Wyo.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse Overnight Defense: Senate poised to pass defense bill with requirement to change Confederate base names | Key senator backs Germany drawdown | Space Force chooses 'semper supra' as motto Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee MORE (D-Mont.), the chairman and ranking member of the panel, announced Wednesday they had filed a subpoena to force either EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyAzar arrives in Taiwan amid tensions with China Azar to visit Taiwan amid tensions with China Biden campaign adopts carbon-free power by 2035 in T environment plan  MORE or Mathy Stanislaus, an assistant administrator in charge of land and emergency management, to testify.

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Barrasso said the EPA had previously refused to make McCarthy available for the April 22 hearing.

Senators plan to use the hearing to press the agency on the spill at Colorado’s Gold King Mine, where an EPA mistake caused 3 million gallons of toxic sludge to spill into a tributary of the Animas River, shutting it and the downstream San Juan River down for days. Reservations of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe are on the San Juan.

“It troubles me that this committee had to take the extraordinary step of issuing a subpoena to a confirmed federal official,” Barrasso said, adding that McCarthy agreed in her confirmation hearing to be available for congressional hearings.

“Despite the sworn testimony, the EPA refused to provide any witnesses — any witnesses — to the committee field hearing,” he said. “This sort of behavior is unbecoming of any federal official, and won’t be tolerated.”

Barrasso had planned to hold a vote of the Indian Affairs Committee Wednesday to issue the subpoena. But committee rules also allow for a subpoena if the chairman and ranking member agree to it, and Tester said he was on board after the EPA said Stanislaus would be available.

“I do think we need to figure out a way that we can actually empower the EPA to get some of these things cleaned up so that we don’t have the situations like we had in the southwestern part of this country,” Tester said.

In a letter to the committee Tuesday, the EPA said senators had not actually asked McCarthy to testify, despite Barrasso’s and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column CNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' MORE’s (R-Ariz) statements that they had asked her to come and the agency declined.

The EPA initially pushed back against the request for Stanislaus’ testimony, since he had a hearing scheduled the day before in Washington, D.C. But in Tuesday’s letter, the agency said Stanislaus would be available for the hearing.

McCarthy, meanwhile, has a full day scheduled on April 22, Earth Day. Spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said McCarthy plans to appear at three events that day in Washington.

McCarthy has taken responsibility for the spill on the EPA’s behalf. Its response to the disaster has included more than $1 million spent specifically on the Navajo reservation.

— This post was updated at 6:08 p.m.