Courtesy La Plata Office of Emergency Management
The Animas River as it appeared on August 6, 2015, a day after a contractor working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally let loose three million gallons of toxic sludge. The river flows through the Southern Ute Tribe reservation.

Gold King Mine Could Have Been Prevented


Just shy of three months after the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered what has become known as the Gold King Mine spill on August 5, 2015, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, announced the spill could have been prevented by the EPA.

In early August, EPA workers were examining and remediating the abandoned Gold King Mine when a backhoe moved loose soil and stones that made up a flimsy dam holding back three million gallons of mining wastewater, as reported by ICTMN on August 11.

RELATED: Toxic River Spill Flowing Across Navajo Nation Is 3 Million Gallons, Not One: EPA

The spill quickly flowed into a tributary of the Animas River turning the waterway a mustard yellow resulting in tribal communities to declare disaster areas. First to witness the toxic contamination was the Southern Ute Tribe, then the Navajo Nation saw what Navajo President Russell Begaye described as looking “like orange juice” flow through the sprawling 27,000-square-mile reservation. The Animas River flows into the San Juan River in Farmington, New Mexico. Roughly 215 miles of the San Juan River runs through the Navajo Nation. The impact of the Gold King Mine spill, according to Begaye, would be felt by thousands.

RELATED: Navajo Nation ‘Weeping’ as Toxic Mining Spill Flows Through Reservation

RELATED: Southern Ute Tribe Declares Disaster Over Mining Spill in Animas River

On September 16, the SCIA held a hearing titled: “EPA’s Gold King Mine Disaster: Examining the Harmful Impacts to Indian Country,” with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

During the hearing Barrasso addressed the accountability of the EPA by stating, “Since the responsibility for this spill lies with the EPA, the agency, I believe, has to go above and beyond the standard response to address the needs of the communities impacted – specifically the tribal communities.” Barrasso asked if anyone had been held accountable?

McCarthy said she is waiting for the Department of the Interior to independently look at the information before making a judgment based solely on the EPA’s internal review. “Whether or not we took every precaution and made sound judgments is something that I am waiting the DOI independently to look at,” she said. “If we find that there were inaccuracies … bad judgment we will take action.” When pressed about accountability by Barrasso again, she stated the EPA is being held accountable.

On October 22, the DOI released a 132-page report stating the disaster was the result of rushing with inadequate engineering know-how and that it could have been prevented as The Denver Post reported.

Following the DOI report, Barrasso released a statement saying, “Literally and figuratively, the EPA blew it. The government’s own report directly refutes the EPA’s claim that a toxic spill that caused 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine to poison rivers in three states was ‘likely inevitable.’ Responsibility for this disaster lands directly on the EPA’s doorstep. I want to know who at the EPA will be held accountable for this disaster.”

On November 12, Colorado officials asserted the state’s position originally presented to the EPA on September 2, that the state gave advice but did not approve EPA actions The Denver Post reported. An Internal review by the EPA along with the DOI investigation “concluded state experts approved EPA efforts to drain the mine,” according to The Post.

Mike King, Colorado natural resources director, disagreed with the findings. King said the state shared information about similar techniques used at other mines as “general advice only.” The state’s position on September 2 appeared in a letter written by King which the EPA’s inspector general received Tuesday The Post reports.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



WhiteManWanting's picture
Submitted by WhiteManWanting on
This disaster was predicted by a retired professional geologist with 47 years of experience - one week PRIOR to the disaster. That has received almost no attention, apparently even by Native American publications and tribal organizations that were advised of the following. Read Dave Taylor's prediction for yourself, as published in the "Silverton Standard" on 30 July 2015 (the disaster occurred on 6 August 2015). First note the editor/publisher's statement confirming the original publication date, as well as the fact that they had published it. Then scroll down to "EPA plan is really a 'Superfund blitzkrieg.'"

WinterWindTeacher's picture
Submitted by WinterWindTeacher on
It seems there may be multiple agency's culpable in the Gold King disaster spill. 'A backhoe moved some unsettled soil and stones?' That is all there is to onsite permit, licensing and inspections and monitoring by local, state and federal agency's? There is absolutely no excuse for the disaster - it was irresponsibility and neglect, and downgraded priority. It seems otherwise red flags and phones ringing off the hooks as to immediate containment of contaminants would have taken priority before operations even started - a sufficient containment pool or container of byproducts and contaminants would have to meet the first licensing process. If it took a hand delivered court order to the operators of the mine to cease all operations until safety procedures had met standard regulations, then that is what should have been done. Obviously there had to be neglect from the beginning, what agency issued the permit for mining and what agency passed on site inspection of handling of toxic substances and contaminated waste materials and how they were kept safe from any contact with soil, water or the public? People are not doing their job for some reason; corruption, kickbacks, cost cutting measures, or the impossibility of meeting regulatory standards - in other words look the other way, lie, cheat, cover up, doctor documents - and get busy hauling the treasure out at any cost; was then by any means a legal operation. My guess is there is a lot of back scratching and the E.P.A. will be the fall guy which everyone will agree with a conservative gang - ought to be dismantled making the way for more exploratory opportunistic exploits possible. Heads should roll but I am guessing its not just at the E.P.A. Unfortunately for the people this is the business model still enacted today, such as nuclear power plants - no business will underwrite any insurance on these models of operations because the risks of harm are to great. The government fronts up the money, of whose funds belong to the people and if any thing should go wrong, disaster, etc. the people can pay for that also. Any profits and wealth derivatives always by chance fall into the pockets of the few, but all liability always falls directly upon the people. It is what I detest about representative democracy. The people are kept in the dark about almost everything but have the full responsibility for anything that goes wrong. I want direct democracy, open government and everyone knows what is going on and has an equal vote on all proposals and measures introduced, no more secrecy. All decisions effect the benefit of all the people and all mistakes are also equally shared. I detest misrepresented government. that meets in secret and who knows what scheming is going on. Just do not like it and I prefer everyone is involved to vote and debate openly the issues.