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Yellow River, by EPA

Yellow River, by EPA

EPA-caused Environmental Disaster at Animas River Continues

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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A retired geologist had written to the local paper warning that this could happen. Check out The Silverton Standard and Miner.

One theory is that the EPA knew they were creating a mess but wanted to. A disaster of this size could qualify for Super Fund money and, bonus, stop mining in the area, a two-fer.

This is the EPA which funds outside groups which sue the EPA so the court then orders the EPA to do something they wanted to do anyhow, but couldn’t get legislative approval for. A simple fix is to strip the outside groups of standing for lawsuits.

    Sanddog in reply to Milwaukee. | August 12, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    They knew it was continuing to leak and they didn’t even wait for the plugs to dislodge themselves under water pressure… they went in and did it themselves. There was no containment plan, they just let it rip.

    Noblesse Oblige in reply to Milwaukee. | August 12, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    It turns out that EPA proposed the mine for Superfund status in the 90s but it was defeated by local opposition concerned about the impact on tourism. Now undoubtedly EPA will get its way and they will get to spend the money they always wanted to spend and put the area under their thumb. But the retired geologist’s accusation gets additional credibility.

    This is how it works with the central government. You have to keep your eye on the pea.

    gwsjr425 in reply to Milwaukee. | August 13, 2015 at 8:48 am

    If you read that letter from Mr Taylor, is sounds like the EPA pumped the water into the mine themselves. It wasn’t waste water leftover from previous operations.

    The most important point is this letter was published July 30, 2015 thus it was a prediction. Good job sir!

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “I take full responsibility”.

So, she’s getting the tab?

Or is that like the Obamic “I take full responsibility” that means you take nothing of the kind and never face ANY consequences…???

The EPA didn’t even notify New Mexico of the spill. Gov Martinez learned of it from the Southern Ute tribe. I guess those stupid paper pushers in Washington don’t understand the flow of water.

I think the EPA should pay for all damages and remediation and take the money from its current budget. All other operations would therefore cease, a win-win for the country.

The worst part of it is that in the arid Southwest this kind of contamination will persist much longer than in wetter climates.

    Milwaukee in reply to tarheelkate. | August 13, 2015 at 12:09 am

    If they are going to do as you suggest, “I think the EPA should pay for all damages and remediation and take the money from its current budget.” Where do you think their budget comes from?

    When the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District dumps millions of gallons of untreated sewage into Lake Michigan, the good taxpayers pay millions in fines to the EPA. Money which could be used to fix the problems. In that case, “they” should privatize the sewer system, let them make a profit but then take the fines from the shareholders earnings. I’d bet that would move the sewer system to fix the problems leading to sewage dumps.

      Milhouse in reply to Milwaukee. | August 13, 2015 at 12:44 am

      The current budget has already been appropriated. The point is let them pay the fine out of that, and not get an increased appropriate for it. That way they will not have money to carry on their existing business, which will be a win for all of us.

Sadly, the heavy metals in this mess do not include gold. If gold was in there, private cleanup at no cost to government would have started immediately, and would continue until the mess was out of the river.

    faboutlaws in reply to platypus. | August 13, 2015 at 11:47 am

    The EPA has published the results of water testing that shows the mess contains both gold and silver. More silver than gold, but not enough to cover the cost of extraction. Don’t forget that a cubic mile of seawater contains more gold dissolved in it than the total amount of gold ever mined by man and nobody has figured a way to get it.

Wow, look at what those callous industrialists have done, ruined a whole ecosystem, just for a bit of filthy profit. See, this is why we need a strong EPA, and why we need to oppose those Koch-bought Republicans who want to restrain the EPA.

Wait, what? Um, oh! Look! The Winged Victory of Samothrace! Anyway, as I was saying, we need a strong EPA to keep unprincipled businesses from destroying the environment. Down with Koch. Ban mining. Ban energy. Ban toxic metals. Um, er, OK then.

    Milwaukee in reply to Milhouse. | August 12, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    In the mid-70’s, with the OPEC oil embargo driving up prices, Texas had bumper stickers which read “Drive 80 and freeze a Yankee.”

    The Colorado School of Mines had bumper stickers which read “Ban Mining. Let the bastards freeze in the dark.”

    These idiots at the EPA don’t care who gets hurt. William Ruckelshaus, the first EPA head, banned DDT before accepting a $433,000 a year job from the Environmental Defense Fund. While environmentalism has always been the province of rich, White liberals, that same group doesn’t mind the damage they do to the mountains with downhill skiing.

Midwest Rhino | August 12, 2015 at 8:42 pm

It will get flushed quickly and there will be little long term effect, is my guess. All the yellow is probably clay like material, and heavy metals dissolved will go to the Gulf of California, some will drop out along the way I guess. I wonder how many megatons a year of the same junk gets washed downstream “naturally” each year.

The EPA deserves blame, though I don’t want to see an extra trillion given for a million that might claim they got various diseases due to drinking this water. BP pays for their spill, but just put the whole EPA in prison.

    Milwaukee in reply to Midwest Rhino. | August 12, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    The “heavy ” in “heavy metals” means they weigh more than usual. While they are in the water, they don’t exactly dissolve. More like “absorbed” into the water. Rather like water run through copper pipes contains higher level of copper than distilled water, the water will have significant levels of metal. Sugar and salt are dissolved into water. Some of these levels are measured in parts-per-billion. It is quite likely that there will be pockets where this still will settle and every time somebody turns over a nearby rock the stuff will get stirred up and sent further down stream.

    The EPA standard for acceptable arsenic levels are 10 parts-per-billion or less. See Basic Information about the Arsenic Rule for more information.

      Midwest Rhino in reply to Milwaukee. | August 13, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Yeah true, but I have yet to find any real analysis of exactly what is released, and what a real expert thinks of the long term ramifications in this particular case.

      Same with how the metals are carried, if they are not “dissolved”. My impression is they will bind with the soil particles (the stuff I presume is showing all the color). If they were just heavy like metal, they would be sitting in the bottom of the mine still. My guess is they are binding at least loosely, mostly to the soil particles. If they didn’t drop out in the mine shaft, they probably won’t drop out much in moving water.

      But we need real analysis of this particular situation by experts, and it’s hard to find unbiased reviews. Most see all the yellow and think any that touch it will have their skin peel off, or something like that. The EPA says it is now testing clean and there were no fish kills even as the worse of it flowed past. The enviro guys are saying “it takes three years to show up”, which sounds like nonsense. They are saying higher levels will become concentrated in fish over time, but they are guessing.

      The rule of thumb is “dilution is the solution”, but rules are such that we have 50,000 mines with this toxic stuff they couldn’t release. Of course it’s just dirt, but it’s dirt that hasn’t been slowly eroded and diluted over the ages, as happened in the formation of all those canyons.

      Midwest Rhino in reply to Milwaukee. | August 13, 2015 at 10:16 am

      I was able to find this on levels of contaminants.

      One of the samples of mercury was nearly 10 times higher than the EPA acceptable levels. Samples of beryllium and cadmium were 33 times higher, and one of the arsenic levels was more than 800 times higher.

      So the plume would be bad to drink. But that 800 is the worst, found in one sample. We need an average of all the samples from “the plume”. The initial 3 million gallons were diluted by the river into this plume, and that is all being pushed downstream by 18 million gallons per hour of clean river.

      I’m more sure of my initial guess now. Very small amounts may drop out but there will be almost no long term effects, except for all the lawsuits by those that want another free ride. In the short term, people had to turn off their water supply lines as the plume passed, some tourists were told not to drink the water, and thousands are seeing lawyers to see if they can get rich quick on the taxpayer dime.

        Milhouse in reply to Midwest Rhino. | August 14, 2015 at 2:42 am

        Also bear in mind that the EPA’s standard for acceptable arsenic levels is ridiculously low. Remember that early in GWB’s first term even the EPA agreed to raise it to something still too low, and the environuts kicked up an ignorant public outcry that stopped it.

Correct spelling is the Animas River.
I am in no way any kind of expert, but I live near the Eagle River in Colorado and this type of heavy metal contamination lasts decades. Maybe the extreme flow will help, but follow the TOTAL flow of this river into the COLORADO River system and think of the MILLIONS of people that this may affect.

    Thanks so much for the input.

    Subotai Bahadur in reply to Lewfarge. | August 12, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    Y’all beat me to the spelling correction. The contamination will not disappear quickly. Unless there is a special government magic that makes their contaminations different from the contaminations they charge private citizens with.

    I would like to note that according to the news, the EPA Administrator who was in Durango today says the river is safe. I don’t believe her. Immediately after it made the news, the EPA said that there was no contamination and that water sources along the Animas River were totally safe. After it hit the Navajo reservations in New Mexico, they admitted that it was full of mercury, heavy metals and arsenic and that people should not drink or contact the water. Now suddenly it is magically safe? I don’t think so.

    Our Congress-critter was in my town today and says that there will be no repercussions for the EPA. Sovereign Immunity. When the government does it, it is not a crime.

I see a lot of people calling for the EPA to be punished as they punish others who have accidents like this. But I have the opposite take. If the EPA and its supporters were honest, the lesson they would learn from this is that, with the best faith in the world, accidents happen. I assume they don’t want to be punished as so many of us are advocating; very well, let them promise to treat the next accident that they didn’t cause with the same understanding. And let them apologize to all the people they’ve hounded in the past for having accidents.

Are these the same jokers who pledged to keep the boot on BP’s neck until the Gulf spill was completely corralled?

Now if we had a *real* conservative Speaker of the House, the cost of the cleanup would be taken out of the EPA’s existing budget. But of course Cryin’ Boner will give the EPA everything they ask for and stick us taxpayers with the bill. Oh, and be sure to vote Republican next year!

Perhaps the “boot on BP’s neck” EPA Sovereign Entities could hire the expert “EPA boot necked” BP professionals to “completely corral” the EPA’s “plan.”
Please just use the $18 billion fine the EPA already received from the BP experts to cover the costs of the EPA plan.

There’s got to be away to blame this on Bush

Every time I see that yellow river water, it makes me want to take a leak.

Not A Member of Any Organized Political | August 13, 2015 at 4:00 pm

So now I know!

Know who to blame yellow snow on too!

The E P A !!!!

Wrong. If your holy precious Capitalist (pbuh) profit-seeking Private Free Enterprise hadn’t ABANDONED those toxic materials, the EPA wouldn’t have had to clean them up.

    Cite (not involving Kos or the EPA)?

    Milhouse in reply to Chem_Geek. | August 14, 2015 at 2:45 am

    They were left where they belonged; down a disused mine where they were doing no harm. Where else should they have been put? The EPA had no need to “clean” anything. It decided to clean a dump, and made a mess somewhere that actually matters.