Sen. Lee: WH Hasn’t Responded to Congressional Inquiries Regarding EPA’s Toxic Spill

By Penny Starr | August 21, 2015 | 3:30pm EDT


A sign warns residents of Farmington, New Mexico to stay out of the Animas River, which was befouled when an EPA worker "triggered a large release of water containing sediments" that are hazardous to human health. (Daily Times/AP)

( – Neither the White House nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – the federal agency tasked with protecting public health and the country’s natural resources – have responded to inquiries sent by members of Congress from states impacted by the EPA’s toxic chemical spill in Colorado two weeks ago, a spokesperson with Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) office told

Senate and House members from Utah, New Mexico and Colorado have sent letters to President Barack Obama and EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins, Jr. seeking accountability for the estimated three million gallons of toxic mine waste EPA employees released into Western waterways.

But Sen. Lee sent out a press release on Thursday explaining that he and other members of Congress from the states affected have still not received replies from the Obama administration.

The mine waste, which contained high concentrations of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals, was accidentally released into the Animas River by EPA workers as they inspected the long-abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado on Aug. 5, the Associated Press reported.

In an Aug. 17 letter to the president signed by all members of the congressional delegation from Utah, where the polluted water reached Lake Powell after travelling 300 miles downstream, the administration was chided for its slow response to the “disaster”.

“Unfortunately, EPA failed to contact the state of Utah within twenty-four hours of the spill. This reckless behavior is intolerable,” the letter states.

“The federal government must implement a more transparent and efficient cleanup effort if it is to aid Utah’s scientists and make our communities whole again,” adds the letter, which was signed by Lee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and GOP House members Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz, Chris Stewart and Mia Love.

“In the long-term, the federal government must ensure that the state and local governments forced to spend money protecting their citizens are adequately and quickly compensated,” the letter added.

In an Aug. 19 letter to Elkins, all the senators from the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), pointed out that “the release of contaminated water from this legacy mine has polluted the Animas River in Colorado and spread through New Mexico, Utah, the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and the Navajo Nation.”

“The EPA’s execution of this project fell far short of the standards to which any cleanup operation should adhere,” the members of Congress complained.

They also provided 13 questions they want to see answered by the inspector general’s “preliminary inquiry” into the spill.

The 13 questions seek specific facts, including the expertise of the EPA workers at the Gold King Mine; the criteria EPA would apply for such work if it was done by a private sector company; whether the delay of information to interested parties about the spill created any health risks; and details about the procedures, or lack thereof, that led to the spill.

As reported earlier by, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said at a news conference on Aug. 11 that her agency is “taking responsibility” for the toxic release.

But according to the AP, the problem is not going away anytime soon.

“It will take many years and many millions of dollars simply to manage and not even remove the toxic wastewater from an abandoned mine that unleashed a 100-mile-long torrent of heavy metals into Western rivers and has likely reached Lake Powell,” AP reported Aug. 13.

“Plugging Colorado's Gold King Mine could simply lead to an eventual explosion of poisonous water elsewhere, so the safest solution… would be to install a treatment plant that would indefinitely clean the water from Gold King and three other nearby mines.”

Related: EPA Downplays Dangers of Mine Spill, But Concerns Linger

Related: NM Gov. Martinez: 'We Have People Preparing a Lawsuit' Against EPA

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