Environmental Groups Provide Cover For EPA Incompetence That Caused Toxic Waste Spill

Three settling ponds are used at Cement Creek, which was flooded with millions of gallons of mining wastewater, on August 11, 2015 in Silverton, Colorado. The Environmental Protection Agency uses settling ponds to reduce the acidity of mining wastewater so that it carries fewer heavy metals.
Theo Stroomer/Getty Images

The same environmental groups who called for severe penalties against companies and industry executives responsible for similar environmental catastrophes are singing a different tune now that the EPA has caused a toxic waste blowout into Colorado’s Animas River.

Breitbart asked three leading environmental groups – the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC], and Earth Justice – to explain why they aren’t working to see EPA leaders punished in the same way they wanted private industry executives held responsible for similar spills.

Only the NRDC offered a response.

Earth Justice and several other environmental groups have made no public comment on the Animas River spill at all. In their public statements, neither the NRDC nor the Sierra Club pointed the finger at the EPA.

Though the Sierra Club did not respond to our inquiries, it did offer this public statement on August 11:

The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse. As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.

In a recent statement, the NRDC’s President Rhea Suh said only that the EPA “inadvertently triggered the mine waste spill last week,” while casting mining companies and Republicans in the House of Representatives as the responsible parties.

Retired geologist Dave Taylor, who predicted that the EPA project that caused the massive spill would “fail within 7 to 120 days,” tells Breitbart News that the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC] are trying to shift the blame from the EPA to the mining companies.

“They’re trying to blame the mining companies, not the EPA that caused the spill,” Taylor tells Breitbart News in an exclusive interview.

A spokesperson for the NRDC elaborated on the organization’s views in an interview with Breitbart News.

“EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said on Tuesday everyone at EPA was very sorry for the spill and would work to make sure this tragedy never happens again,” NRDC spokesperson and director of strategic engagement Bob Deans tells Breitbart News.

Deans says NRDC thinks the EPA should be “held accountable” for the spill, but was unable to say what “holding them accountable” actually means.

He declined to call for the firing of any EPA executives, when asked specifically whether EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy or EPA Region 8 Administrator Sean McGrath should be fired.

“We want to withhold comment until all the facts are in. You know, when the BP oil rig blew out in the Gulf Coast a few years ago, it took months to find out what happened.”

When Breitbart asked if he believed the BP incident was comparable to Animas River, Deans said “No.”

The retired geologist Taylor doesn’t need months to know what the EPA did that caused the environmental catastrophe.

As he told Breitbart News, “It was incompetent and stupid for [the EPA] to go up to that existing plug [in the Gold King mine] and try to remove it without knowing how much water was upstream and behind it and what the hydrostatic pressure was. The plug was stable until they fooled around with it. Once they disturbed it, that’s what activated the blowout.”

According to one report, the EPA coerced the owner of the Gold King mine to grant them access or else face a fine of $35,000 per day.

The CBS affiliate in Denver reported that Todd Hennis, the owner of the Gold King mine, “said the EPA forced him to allow access to his mine four years ago. He did not want to give the EPA access to investigate the leakage from his mine but said he was fined daily.”

“When you’re a small guy and you’re having a $35,000-a-day fine accrue against you, you have to run up the white flag,” Hennis told CBS Denver.

Dave Taylor is unimpressed with the spin coming from both the NRDC and the Sierra Club..

“They’re trying to throw it back on the miners,” Taylor tells Breitbart News. “What about the EPA being held accountable?”

The NRDC tried to spin the debacle in a way that reflected favorably on the EPA.

“This thing [the Gold King mine] was pouring out contaminated water at the rate of 3 million gallons every 4 days, all going down and then into the Animas River,” Deans tells Breitbart News.

In an emailed statement, Deans adds “the Gold King Mine was leaking toxic mine waste at the rate of 1.845 cubic feet per second – roughly 1.2 million gallons per day – before the EPA accident.”

“On Sunday, EPA officials said the mine continues to discharge waste – now being channeled into ponds – at the rate of about 500 gallons per minute, or 720,000 gallons per day, which is the (lower) base figure we used to derive the estimate of 3 million gallons every four days or so, prior to the accident,” the emailed statement continues.

But Taylor makes short shrift of this argument, pointing out that due to the EPA’s management of information, it is very difficult to get a true estimate of contaminated water flows from the Red and Bonita mine and the Gold King mine before and after the toxic blowout caused by the EPA at the Gold King mine on August 5.

“They [the EPA] just back figured the spill. They’re hiding information,” Taylor tells Breitbart News.

“It’s almost impossible to find out how much water before the screw up was coming out of the Red and Bonita Mine,” he adds.

“How much was coming out of Gold King mine? Next question—the Gold King Mine blows…. How many hours did it take for this 3 million gallons of contaminated water filled with sludge to get out of there? Two hours? Ten hours?” Taylor asks.

“They’re [the EPA] hiding that information. They hide everything,” he says.

“We got cadmium, we got arsenic, copper, and lead. What did we have in the creek before? It’s all hidden scientific gobbledygook. Maybe they don’t think we’re smart enough to understand it. They’re just taking the information and twisting it around,” Taylor adds.

As for the claim by the NRDC that there was little difference between the 3 million gallons of contaminated water that the NRDC and the EPA claim had leaked from the Gold King mine in the four days preceding the blowout and the 3 million gallons that escaped during the blowout, Taylor explains why this claim is not correct.

“The mines [the Red and Bonita mine and the Gold King mine] were making 500 gallons per minute before the EPA caused blowout, according to press reports. One of the reasons this blowout was a lot more catastrophic is that the water that was leaking out before the spill was not full of sludge. It was basically clear,” Taylor says.

“Their incompetence — the EPA’s that is — was so bad, the adit [the passage leading into the mine] it was on top of a huge [contaminated] tailings pile, when that blowout occurred, the water [flowing out] cut down through the tailings pile, carrying the tailings, and it stirred the whole mess up.”

“The reason that blowout spill turned the river orange in some places is it had all that contamination in it from the flushing action. Had it come out slowly, it would have never turned the Animas orange,” Taylor says.

The most dramatic photographs of the Animas River immediately after the EPA caused blow out showed that it had turned the color of the river to a deep orange.

Breitbart News pressed the NRDC on Taylor’s point.

“Was that waste [in the four days before the blowout] substantially free of sludge, in contrast to the 3 million gallon blowout that occurred on August 5?” Breitbart News asked the NRDC.

“It’s not clear what was in it, but it was coming out of the mine,” an NRDC spokesperson responded in an emailed statement.

In other words, the NRDC is attempting to downplay the environmental damage from the contaminants contained in the blowout caused by the EPA incompetence, which was significant, as CBS reported:

Testing from the river hours after the spill shows the amount of lead in the water was more than 3,500 times the limit that is safe for humans. The arsenic levels were 823 times above the limit. And cadmium levels were 33 times higher.

Taylor points out that the blowout may have increased the regular flow of water from the Gold King mine into the Cement Creek, according to some of the publicly reported information. Mine owner Todd Hennis, for instance, told CNN that the flow before the blowout was 250 gallons per minute. After the blowout, that rate has increased to 615 gallons per minute.

As CNN Wire Services reported:

It is a Kinross [Gold]-owned mine — Sunnyside Mine — that Hennis blames for the accumulation of wastewater that spilled.

In the mid-1990s, Kinross got permission to bulkhead, or plug, a segment of the Sunnyside Mine called the American Tunnel.

The project was approved to reduce pollution, but Hennis claims that the actual effect was that it pushed wastewater into other mines, including his.

Before the American tunnel was plugged, the Gold King Mine discharged 7 gallons of water a minute, and didn’t pose a health risk, Hennis said. After the project at the Sunnyside Mine, the discharge from the Gold King Mine discharge had grown to 250 gallons of water a minute, he said…

One week after the spill, the Gold King Mine continues to discharge water at an elevated rate.

As of Wednesday the polluted water was flowing from the mine at a rate of 610 gallons per minute, as measured by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The August 5 EPA caused toxic waste blowout is expected to have long term effects far beyond Colorado. As the Associated Press reported:

In New Mexico, officials lifted a precautionary ban on water from private wells throughout the Animas River valley but kept in place warnings not to drink water from the river or give it to livestock.

Gov. Susana Martinez also formed a special team charged with monitoring the spill’s long-term effects.

“As the river begins to clear up, there are still many questions left unanswered by the EPA,” she said. “New Mexicans deserve to know the long-term effects this environmental catastrophe will have on our communities, our agriculture and our wildlife.”

On the Navajo Nation, tribal officials continued to warn residents and farmers not to use water from the San Juan River, which was also polluted as a result of the spill.

The tribe has set up fresh water stations for residents and water was being delivered for farmers and livestock.

Despite these long term environmental effects, the few environmental groups who are willing to even offer a comment on EPA’s involvement in this incident appear to be more interested in spinning the narrative to blame the mining companies, while largely absolving the true culprit in this incident—the EPA itself.


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