Lawmakers Press EPA About Animas Spill, Seek Hearings

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By Tripp Baltz

Aug. 21 — Members of Congress are pressing the Environmental Protection Agency to be more forthcoming about what caused the release of 3 million gallons of mining waste and sediment into the Animas River in southwestern Colorado.

Several lawmakers are calling for congressional hearings into the Aug. 5 incident at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Aug. 21 the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which he chairs, will hold a hearing Sept. 9 to hear directly from the EPA about the events that took place before and after the spill.

Smith said he has asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to testify at the hearing. “Weeks after the spill, families and businesses who depend on the Animas River continue to deal with uncertainty and limited information,” Smith said in a statement. “As the agency entrusted by the American people to protect the environment and ensure the nation’s waters are clean, the EPA should be held to the highest standard.”

Mining Wastewater Released 

EPA investigators, while attempting to enter Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, accidentally unleashed the mining wastewater and sediment into Upper Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River. The Animas streams through Durango, Colo., and southwestern Colorado before merging with the San Juan River in New Mexico. The San Juan empties into the Colorado River at Lake Powell in Utah.

The plume of waste contained several heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead. The EPA and state officials have declared the water quality of the rivers as having returned to “pre-incident” levels.

The EPA said Aug. 19 samples from Lake Powell indicated “no significant impact” from the plume.

Additional Hearings 

Smith said the House science committee “needs to hear from the EPA about steps it is taking to repair the damage and to prevent this from ever occurring again.”

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 20 that hearings are also likely to be conducted by the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“There are a lot of questions for the EPA to answer,” he said. “Why was there no contingency plan?”

Tipton and several House colleagues, including Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and 27 other representatives, signed a letter to McCarthy asking 15 questions about the EPA’s response to and handling of the spill.

Tipton told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 20 there has been no response to the questions in the letter.

A chorus of congressional voices have called for action and accountability since the incident began, including one from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). On Aug. 12, Boehner issued a statement calling on the Obama administration “to step up its efforts to protect the people in the affected states.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

The letter from Tipton and 29 other representatives is available at