It’s too bad that when Obama promised to lower the ocean levels he also failed say something about America’s rivers.
The news related to the release of acidic wastewater laden with heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, lead) continues to flow from Colorado, and it stinks. For example, it turns out the Environmental Protection Agency substantially underestimated the size of the spill in its initial reports. The U.S. Geological Survey assessed the actual amount to be closer to 3 million gallons, compared with the initial EPA estimate of 1 million.
The flow of contamination is has hit Utah, and New Mexico is declaring a state of emergency:
As of Monday evening, officials said the plume of contamination was southeast of Montezuma Creek, Utah, and was headed for Lake Powell. Environmental Protection Agency officials say the pollutants in the plume include arsenic, lead, copper, aluminum and cadmium, but have not released any detailed information on the spill that started Wednesday morning and has since been contained.
…One rural water user association in San Juan County, where New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency Monday, has spent thousands of dollars buying water from Farmington and Aztec because it had to shut down its wells after the toxic mine waste spilled into the Animas last week.
As more facts dribble out, anger at the EPA’s actions mounts.
Now, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has apologized…a rare act for an Obama administration official.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized Tuesday for a mine spill in Colorado that her agency caused last week and planned to travel to the area Wednesday, amid increasing criticism from lawmakers about the EPA’s response.
Ms. McCarthy said at a news conference in Washington that she was still learning about what happened, responding to a question about whether the EPA was reviewing changes in how it cleans up old mines. “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there,” she said. “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) said in an interview Tuesday he doubted the EPA had an adequate network set up in the region to respond to the disaster. “Something did go wrong, and here we are, a week later, and there still remains a lack of understanding not only with what happened, but what’s actually at stake in terms of public health,” Mr. Gardner said.
The last significant environmental disaster was the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill that contaminated the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in the largest environmental fine in US history (over $18 billion). What type of fine and punishment is the EPA looking at, then?
Thanks to sovereign immunity, The EPA won’t be enjoying the fiscal penalties it doles out to private businesses. However, the taxpayer will be picking up the tab for the enormous clean-up operation.
What the EPA can be expected to cover is the cost of the cleanup and compensation for the damage caused, funding that would have to be appropriated by Congress, meaning that the taxpayers will foot the bill.
“That’s going to have to be appropriated because that sort of thing is not included in the EPA’s budget,” said Mr. Sansonetti, now a Denver attorney.
However, that doesn’t mean that lawsuits won’t be forthcoming. There are reports that the Navajo are preparing to go to court.
Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez says he wants full accountability from the federal government.
“We want to hold whoever was responsible for this spill and hold them accountable the full extent of the law. This is going to be a long-term cleanup. We can’t just let this go,” says Vice President Nez.
A look at the root cause of accident indicates there was a failure in properly addressing the complex network of tunnels in which the wastewater generated from decades of profitable mining work has been stored.
“It was known that there was a pool of water back in the mine, and EPA had a plan to remove that water and treat it, you know, slowly,” Peter Butler, who serves as a co-coordinator of the stakeholders group, told KUNC. “But things didn’t go quite the way they planned and there was a lot more water in there than they thought, and it just kind of burst out of the mine.”
The locals had agreed to the EPA’s plans to address the heavy metal contamination, in order to avoid having the area designated a “Superfund” site…which might have hurt the tourist industry. Since 1991, when the EPA forced the mines to treat the water for which they were only partially responsible for contaminating (water seeping through metal-rich rock rich in sulfur will naturally become acidic and enriched in chemicals), the region depends on tourists heavily to sustain itself.
Now, thanks to this incident, Colorado businesses won’t even have tourists to depend on. As Ronald Reagan once said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
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