Investigators open criminal probe into EPA mine waste spill

Investigators open criminal probe into EPA mine waste spill
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Federal investigators want to find out whether anyone involved in a mine waste spill caused by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) committed a crime.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed the criminal investigation related to its ongoing inquiry into the Gold King Mine spill in a statement Friday.

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“Based on requests from several members of the House and Senate, the OIG is conducting both a program evaluation and a criminal investigation of the Gold King Mine spill,” the OIG said in the statement.

The office went on to say its program evaluation, which it started shortly after the August 2015 spill in Colorado, will be suspended to allow the criminal probe, which includes the Department of Justice (DOJ), to proceed.

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoGOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge Lobbying World MORE (R-Wyo.) requested a criminal investigation in May along with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Biden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel.

“We ask that you review the circumstances surrounding the Gold King Mine spill to determine specifically whether evidence warrants the prosecution of any EPA manager, employee or contractor for the criminal violation of federal environmental law, criminal negligence, obstruction or any other crime,” they wrote.

“With the conduct of EPA employees and contractors having been stipulated as causing the Gold King Mine spill, DOJ’s involvement is necessary to affirm that the government is willing to hold itself to the same level of accountability as it holds private companies whose negligence results in serious environmental damage.”

OIG spokesman Jeffrey Lagda declined to disclose any other details about the criminal probe.

The spill occurred when an EPA contractor doing cleanup work on the abandoned mine improperly moved an adit plug, causing about 3 million gallons of sludge with toxic heavy metals to flow into a tributary of the Animas River.

It turned the river and the San Juan River downstream bright orange, causing officials to close them for days.

The EPA has taken responsibility for the spill and paid millions of dollars to local governments to help them recover.

Congressional Republicans quickly pounced on the incident, framing it as a sign of hypocrisy by the Obama administration.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOvernight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea MORE (R-Utah) said earlier this year that the actions that caused the spill were deliberate.

“There was nothing unintentional about EPA’s actions with regard to breaching the mine,” Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said at a hearing. “They fully intended to dig out the plug and breach it. It was a major mistake and due to a lack of engineering planning, but it was done on purpose.”