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 BarrassoIf Democrats want gun control, they must first concede defeat Conway: Republican concerns about gun reform 'all reconcilable' Five proposals Congress is eyeing after mass shootings MORE (R-Wyo.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment House Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown 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) McCarthyOvernight 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 Overnight Energy: Trump order to trim science panels sparks outrage | Greens ask watchdog to investigate Interior's records policies | EPA to allow use of pesticide harmful to bees 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 McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death 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.