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EPA accident causes more water pollution than fracking does

EPA accident causes more water pollution than fracking does

1 million gallons of acidic wastewater spills, creating environmental and PR catastrophe

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.


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Freddie Sykes | August 9, 2015 at 5:13 pm

The EPA should fine itself for the spill and then go to Congress for more funds to pay the fine. The EPA official paying the fine, the one receiving the fine and the one requesting addition funds should be paid a bonus for their quick resolution of the matters.

Then the EPA should go after the landowners upon whose properties the fish and animals killed by the spill wash up.

    Ha Freddie, I was going to suggest obama flunkies fine the EPA as he did BP for the Gulf spill. I don’t feel like looking up all the pious self aggrandizing statements obama and his cohorts made during that time, but I’m sure they’re still as applicable now as they were then.
    No bonus for any of them for the next fifty years, and a resulting lay off and firings of enough bureaucrats to pay the fine. With maybe a possibility of a civil trial for those in the EPA deemed responsible.

      Freddie Sykes in reply to 4fun. | August 9, 2015 at 8:16 pm

      If you do not give them a bonus, they will just sit around sulking and watching pornography. If you give them a bonus, they will sit around watching pornography but at least they will sulk less.

I was on the tourist train that goes up the Animas River between Durango and Silverton on the day the spill happened. The water was that light green/blue that high mountain rivers seem to all have. The ecosystem certainly looked healthy enough with aquatic plants, fish, and water insects when I saw it. I’m glad I had the opportunity to make that memory before the stream was sludged. My family saw the river on Friday and we all thought there had been an avalanche.

We shouldn’t forget that the ecological damage isn’t the only damage that will be done by this man-made disaster. How many of the local residents absolutely depend on tourism, largely involving the Animas River, to sustain them throughout the year? I bet thousands of people just lost their jobs and dozens of companies are either severely harmed or will have to shut their doors. It doesn’t help that the areas just down the highway have been devastated by wildfires and lost a significant portion of the tourism dollars they used to have.

Looks like at least Obama will know here, “Who’s ass to kick”.

But there’s no Gulf (of Mexico) War to wage here.

The EPA are the good guys. They meant no harm and will be given a pass for this minor mix up. However, the failure to manage the media coverage is inexcusable. Congress will have to investigate and possibly even issue a stern letter.

Obama: “It’s Bush’s fault, no, wait, it’s the Tea Party’s fault, no wait, it’s Global Warming’s fault. It’s a common cause fault.”

Noblesse Oblige | August 9, 2015 at 8:49 pm

EPA is off to a bad start, as the central government always does when it shows off how incompetent it is. It refuses to detail the actual contaminants in the discharge. The cover up has begun.

We need a House committee investigation of this disaster.

NC Mountain Girl | August 10, 2015 at 7:24 am

Reminiscent of some of the problems around here with the TVA and coal ash spills.

People who think that the only way to solve a problem is to give government power to regulate and enforce only can envision a government that is careful, efficient, respectful, prompt, competent and above all lawful.

Such people will scoff at any warning that government is none of these, and in fact that government itself can be more of a danger to our liberty and prosperity over time, that the solution might be worse than the condition the agency is supposed to address.

Agencies like the EPA have become a means to an end in themselves. They exist far more to advance the power of government than to carry out their stated duties. Those duties are way to secure and advance more power.

This is all made possible by the power that government gave itself to create near-infinite amounts of money out of thin air. It used to be that government could only be as large as the taxpayers wanted to fund with their taxes. Now that government can create near-infinite money, it can fund near-infinite bureaucracies for whom there is no end of “unmet needs” to regulate and enforce.

When the States call an Article V convention to consider amendments to the Constitution, the first order of business is to remove and revoke government’s self-grated power to create near-infinite money and near-infinite debt.

Did EPA flood the mine to look 4 “tracers”? then dig @ springs in the area 2 look for outflow? as the EPA “consultant” interviewed claims…

btw this is the worst toxic waste spill in American History, beyond even the oil spills…

    MattMusson in reply to mathewsjw. | August 10, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Oil is a bio-degradable organic liquid. This is a mixture of Heavy Metal, Salts, Acid and Mercury. Yeah. It is a LOT worse than an oil spill.

Anyone involved with this spill needs to be fired. The EPA would go crazy if it happened to any group or company.

    Eskyman in reply to texasron. | August 10, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Fired? In this admin, they’ll all get raises, & the EPA will be commended for a job well done.

    You seem to think the EPA is supposed to help America, but there’s no evidence of that anywhere to be found!