Oct 26, 2015 - 11:00am

2 Quotes Show How EPA’s Cluelessness Led to Colorado River Spill

Senior Editor, Digital Content


Yellow water in the Animas River after EPA's Gold King Mine spill.

EPA, the federal agency that says it needs to have control over nearly every body of water in the U.S. and how adjacent land is used, is responsible for a Colorado river spill, an Interior Department investigation found:

Government investigators squarely blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday for a 3 million-gallon wastewater spill from a Colorado gold mine, saying an EPA cleanup crew rushed its work and failed to consider the complex engineering involved, triggering the very blowout it hoped to avoid.

The spill that fouled rivers in three states would have been avoided had the EPA team checked on water levels inside the Gold King Mine before digging into a collapsed and leaking mine entrance, Interior Department investigators concluded.

These two quotes from the report illustrate just how careless EPA was:

  • EPA has "little appreciation for the engineering complexity."
  • “[T]here appears to be a general absence of knowledge of the risks associated with these [abandoned mining] facilities.”

Even EPA’s internal investigators didn’t hold back on the agencies irresponsibility. Its initial review concluded the spill was “likely inevitable,” but the agency wasn’t prepared to contain a spill before digging into the mine.

Despite the harsh criticism directed at EPA, New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn isn't satisfied with the Interior Department's report:

While the report reveals that an EPA decision was made to refrain from validating the flawed water level estimates with a previously used successful procedure (using a drill rig to bore into the mine from above to directly determine the water level of the mine pool prior to excavating the backfill at the portal); the report says absolutely nothing about who made the decision to fly by the seat of their pants, by digging out the closed Gold King Mine tunnel based on un-validated estimates of what volume and pressure of contaminated water would be violently released.

Here in New Mexico, we are already quite clear on the fact that EPA made a mistake, as the DOI’s report underwhelmingly reveals. What we were wondering, and hoped the report could tell us, is why EPA made the mistake, and who at EPA made the decisions that authorized dangerous work to proceed based on un-validated estimates. It is shocking to read the DOI’s “independent investigation” only to find that it overlooks the who, the how, and the why. 

EPA's actions with the Animas River must be considered in the context of the agency's recent power grab over even more resources through its Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.  As I wrote previously:

An agency that just made a 3 million gallon toxic mistake wants more authority?  The Animas River spill shows EPA is incapable of effectively protecting the waters it already has jurisdiction over.

If competence builds trust, then for EPA a lot of it just went down the drain.

About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.