When the history of the Obama administration is written, few agencies will top the Environmental Protection Agency for the thuggish misuse of regulatory power to work the President’s will.

It’s just too bad that in the quest to shut down America’s coal industry, it failed to actually do the job it was initially mandated to do: Protect the nation’s environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency committed to protecting “human health and the environment,” jeopardized both Wednesday by accidentally releasing one million gallons of wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River.

EPA bureaucrats were using heavy machinery to nose around the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colorado, when they triggered the release of wastewater containing heavy metals like zinc, iron, and copper.

The Denver Post reported that residents of Durango “gathered along the Animas River to watch as the blue waters turned a thick, radiant orange and yellow just after 8 p.m., nearly 34 hours after the spill started.”

The wastewater dumped was an acidic solution loaded with heavy metals (e.g., lead, arsenic), which created a harmful environment for aquatic life and an intriguing video opportunity for witnesses. The Cortez Journal offers this clip, as well as additional details on the spill:

The accident occurred about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Gold King Mine in San Juan County. A mining and safety team working on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency triggered the discharge, according to a news release issued by the EPA.

The EPA’s team was working with heavy equipment to secure and consolidate a safe way to enter the mine and access contaminated water, said Richard Mylott, a spokesman for the EPA in Denver. The project was intended to pump and treat the water and reduce metal pollution flowing out of the mine into Cement Creek, he said.

The agency’s initial response was to downplay the contamination. . . indicating the area was already polluted, implying there were basically no fish to kill.

…Due to current and longstanding water quality impairment associated with heavy metals there are no fish populations in the Cement Creek watershed and populations in the Animas River have historically been impaired for several miles downstream of Silverton.

Subsequently, EPA regional administrator Shaun McGrath had to walk back that initial response by saying, “Some of our earlier comments may have sounded cavalier about the public health concern and the concern for wildlife. I want to assure you that the EPA absolutely is concerned.”

Wildlife experts are not mollified, calling the EPA’s response deeply inadequate:

“Endangered species downstream of this spill are already afflicted by same toxic compounds like mercury and selenium that may be in this waste,” Taylor McKinnon, of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Thursday. “These species are hanging by a thread, and every new bit of toxic exposure makes a bad situation worse. EPA’s downplaying of potential impacts is troubling and raises deeper questions about the thoroughness of its mine-reclamation efforts.”

As an added bonus, the released wastewater will be streaming into Native American lands:

“This is an all too familiar story on the lax oversight responsibility of the US government,” said Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation in a statement. “It is unfortunate that we have to once again tell our people to stay away from the river due to the release of dangerous chemicals into our water.” Begaye also called on the EPA to immediately release details of the water’s contaminants.

The city of Durango stopped pumping water out of the Animas River to prevent contaminating the city reservoir, out of concern for contamination of the drinking water.

This contrasts with fracking operations, often the target of environmental activists who claim it is a source of water pollution. In June, we noted that a report, released after years of study, indicated that fracking isn’t causing widespread damage to the nation’s drinking water.

So, the next time an eco-activist derides fracking, you can honestly point out the current EPA has been more toxic to the environment.