Government & Politics

Who Will Protect Against the Protectors?

An "oops, we did it again" is hardly enough.

Allyne Caan · Aug. 13, 2015

When a cow passes gas, the Environmental Protection Agency declares war, but when the EPA “accidentally” dumps three million gallons of toxic sludge into a U.S. river, the agency seems to think an apology will suffice.

Last week, while inspecting the abandoned Gold King Mine in Durango, Colorado, an EPA contractor breached a retaining wall, spilling a deadly concoction of lead, arsenic, copper, mercury, etc., into a stream leading to the Animas River at a rate of about 700 gallons per minute. What did the great protector of the environment do? At first, not much. For nearly 24 hours, the EPA didn’t even alert state and local officials, who learned of the spill only when they saw their pristine river turn bright orange. Meanwhile, in a statement released a few hours into the disaster, the EPA painted it as a “pulse” that had “dissipated in about an hour.” Nothing to see here folks, move along. You know, kind of how they responded to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Please note intense sarcasm.)

Finally, on Tuesday — nearly a week after the spill — EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized, saying, “It is really a tragic and very unfortunate incident, and EPA is taking responsibility to ensure that the spill is cleaned up.” Not only that, she said, “It pains me to no end that this is happening. But we’re working tirelessly to respond, and we’ve committed to a full review of exactly what happened to ensure it can never happen again.”

Until it does happen again.

McCarthy also dodged, saying, “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there.” But, she promised, “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.” Well, it’s pretty safe to say something went wrong. Otherwise, the river system flowing through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah wouldn’t look like the remains of a pumpkin patch explosion.

As the EPA gives a halfhearted “oops,” some aspects of the “accident” are raising eyebrows. For example, the Associated Press reports that the EPA has been aiming for 25 years to designate the mine a Superfund site. On the one hand, this would mean the federal government undertakes cleanup efforts; on the other, it would give Washington increased control over the area. Local authorities balked at those attempts, concerned such a designation would squash the possibility of revitalizing the area’s mining industry.

Ironically, less than a week before the EPA unleashed the deadly brew, a local newspaper ran a letter by a retired geologist predicting the EPA would cause a disaster at the mine to gain control of the area. Coincidental? Or prescient?

Given the EPA’s disregard for exacerbating devastating droughts in the name of saving a three-inch smelt fish, or the agency’s effort to kill the coal industry in the name of fighting climate change, few things are beyond the scope of what this “protection” agency will do.

For now, the governors of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, as well as leaders of the Navajo Nation, have declared states of emergency. And the so-called “pulse” will likely impact the region for decades, as contaminants settle in the water, only to be stirred up again down the road. Indeed, the spill will be devastating to farmers relying on the water for crops and residents dependent on well water.

The EPA has promised to clean up the contamination and be “fully accountable.” But it’s a safe bet they won’t inflict on themselves the same type of consequences they levied against BP for the Deepwater Horizon spill. Bureaucracies are hardly ever held accountable, especially when they’re as big and powerful as the EPA.

It seems the one thing the EPA spews faster than regulations and toxic sludge is rhetoric.

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