This is this first article of a series on EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the Gold King Mine Disaster.  A report issued in early 2016 by the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee states that EPA officials potentially violated at least two federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.  Based on past enforcement tactics applied by the EPA in similar environmental catastrophes, officials could be held criminally liable for polluting waterways across three states.

House Committee on Natural Resources Report

According to the Majority Staff Report issued by the House Committee on Natural Resources Report: EPA, The Department of the Interior, and the Gold King Mine Disaster filed on February 11, 2016 (Rob Bishop – Chairman), “The blowout caused by the Environmental Protection Agency on August 5, 2015, was a disaster that affected thousands of ordinary Americans and the states and tribes that have jurisdiction over the impacted region. [1]

EPA Double-Standard

Instead of seeking honest answers about how the Gold King Mine blowout occurred, the EPA issued two intentionally misleading reports and used taxpayer dollars to fund a third deceptive report from the Department of the Interior.  (See Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)  These attempts to conceal incompetence and negligence under the guise of transparency and accountability are shameful.”  Among its conclusions, the report states: “EPA’s actions at the site are indefensible.  It appears that EPA recognized this.  Almost immediately, EPA rehired the contractors who were involved in the disaster to help address the mess.  Why?” [1]

Similar previous environmental disasters have been subjects of criminal investigations that led to severe public penalties for those responsible.  “The government, for whatever reason, is treating itself more favorably than it would a private party,” Paul Larkin, who works for the Heritage Foundation and is a former federal attorney, told The Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF). [2] “Federal officials aren’t immune to criminal prosecution,” Larkin said. “If these were private parties they would have opened a criminal investigation.”

Larkin argues that the absence of a criminal investigation reveals a double-standard at the EPA.   In 2015 the EPA opened 213 environmental cases and sent 185 Americans to jail for a total of 129 years as previously reported by the DCNF. [3, 4] Enforcement activities of the EPA in these cases netted those convicted of environmental crimes an average sentence of eight months in prison for typical violations ranging from biofuel fraud to illegal asbestos removal.

Double standard indeed.  In an EPA Oversight hearing on June 29, 2016, Cynthia Giles, the head of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance was asked by Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan why no one at EPA had been criminally charged or held liable.  Giles stated that federal law noted a difference between “the company who makes and releases pollution” from “entities that are trying to respond and clean up pollution that other people created.” Giles went on to explain “We generally do not assess fines or pursue them for violations,” and apparently only punish those causing the pollution. [5,6,7] However, her statements don’t appear to be accurate.

The reality is that the EPA has put people in jail for accidental spills.  In just one example, a contractor managing a site in Alaska was held criminally liable for accidentally hitting an oil pipeline.  The contractor was convicted of criminal negligence even though he wasn’t on the site when the accidental spill occurred. [5]

New EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Visits Site

Will things change with Scott Pruitt now acting as President Donald Trump’s head of the EPA?  One positive sign is that he visited the site on the second anniversary of the spill and announced that the Obama EPA “failed” at its mission to protect the environment.  Former-President Barack Obama, Former-Vice President Joe Biden, and Former-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy never even visited the site.

“EPA should be held to the same standard as those we regulate,” Pruitt said about this month’s visit outside Silverton, Colorado.  Pruitt also said “The previous administration failed those who counted on them to protect the environment.” [8,9]

His press announcement noted that Obama’s EPA denied almost 80 damage claims from state and local governments, farmers, ranchers, homeowners and businesses, among others suffering from the Gold King Mine incident.  “I think it’s safe to say if this had been any other company, a BP-type of situation, there would have been an investigation that would ensue by the agency and there would have been accountability.  That didn’t take place here,” Pruitt stated.  He followed by saying “In my estimation, the EPA walked away from those folks and left them in a position of incurring damages without taking accountability.” [8]

There are 144 current claims pending that require action of the EPA. [8] The hope is that the new administration will finally take action.


How may we serve you?

Article by: Tami Schmitt

Photo by: Jose Murillo











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