WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the Gold King mine disaster.
Click here to watch Sen. Barrasso’s Remarks.
Transcript of Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“I want to speak today about a tragedy that hit the American West last month that didn’t get nearly as much attention as it should have.
“I’m talking about what’s been called the Gold King Mine spill, which happened on August 5.
“That’s when the Environmental Protection Agency spilled three million gallons of toxic waste water into a tributary of the Animas River in Colorado.
“This is water that contained toxic substances like arsenic and lead.
“The agency was doing some work at an old mine when water under very high pressure started rushing out.
“This disturbing incident raises serious questions about how the EPA does business.
First of all, it raises questions about the agency’s responsiveness.
“After the EPA had this accident, apparently it never occurred to them to immediately call the towns downstream – and to let anyone know that this toxic plume was headed their way.
“The Animas River connects to the San Juan River, which connects to the Colorado River, and to Lake Powell.
“These are some of the most beautiful natural resources in America.
“They also provide water for communities all along their runs.
“They provide recreation, and water for irrigation of crops, and for homes.
“This water that was polluted by the Environmental Protection Agency flows from Colorado to New Mexico and into Utah.
“It flows through the land of the Navajo Nation, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
These waterways are a sacred part of the culture of Native Americans who live near them.
“So why didn’t the EPA get on the phone?
“The Navajo Nation was not informed until a full day after the spill.
“It got the news from the state of New Mexico – not from the agency that caused the disaster.
“At first, EPA didn’t even want to admit how bad the spill really was.
“They said that it was one million gallons of waste water.
“Days later, they admitted that they actually spilled three times that amount.
“Four days after the spill, EPA still had not reported to Navajo leaders the presence of arsenic in the water.
“It took five days for the agency to set up a unified command center in Durango, Colorado.
“Yesterday, I chaired a hearing of the Indian Affairs Committee that looked at how this disaster affected tribes along its route.
“The agency’s explanations were very disappointing.
“This disaster happened six weeks ago.
“The EPA is still not giving detailed answers about what went wrong.
“This tragedy also raises questions about the EPA’s basic competence.
“According to a preliminary review by the agency, the EPA failed to take basic precautions.
“The agency never even checked how high the water pressure was at the mine.
“This report did say that the EPA knew about the risk of a blowout 14 months before it actually happened.
“They never bothered to figure out a ‘worst-case scenario,’ and what they would do if water started rushing out.
“The people who live along these rivers are frustrated by the agency’s incompetence, and they are frightened.
“People are afraid of what the long-term health effects might be for them and for their children.
“Farmers and ranchers are being devastated by this disaster. They are uncertain about whether the agency will be compensating them for their full losses. Losses that are a result of the EPA’s own competence.
“At our hearing yesterday, we heard from Gilbert Harrison, who has a 20-acre farm on the Navajo Reservation. He grows corn, alfalfa, watermelons and other crops.
“He estimates that he’s going to lose 40 to 50 percent of some of his crops because he couldn’t use the river water to irrigate.
“This farmer told our committee yesterday: ‘This spill caused by the U.S. EPA created a lot of chaos, confrontation, confusion and losses among the farming community.’
“This was a man-made disaster. Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency inflicted it upon Americans in these communities.
“I’ve spoken with tribal leaders who say that the EPA’s mishandling of this spill has seriously damaged their trust – the tribe’s trust – in the agency.
“I don’t blame them.
“Finally, the EPA’s failure in this incident raises questions about the agency’s priorities. The Obama Environmental Protection Agency has expanded its authority and seized control over one area after another.
“Look at its destructive new rule on waters of the United States.
“This agency has declared that only Washington can be trusted to protect America’s rivers and streams.
“How then do they justify grabbing all of this new power when they can’t even protect rivers from themselves? They caused this problem.
“Does this look like the work of a bureaucracy that should be in charge of protecting America’s precious waterways?
“The Obama administration has focused on its radical climate change agenda, neglecting its most basic responsibilities.
“Do we really think that Washington should have more control over rivers and streams? Does anyone in America believe that?
“Washington did this.
“Washington poisoned this river.
“The so-called Environmental Protection Agency must be held accountable.
“When any private company is accused of violating the Clean Water Act, the EPA has aggressively pursued civil fines against that company and the individual people involved as well. Even criminal prosecution occurs.
“If this were a three million gallon toxic spill caused by private citizens, the EPA would act aggressively against those people.
“The EPA would not accept the kind of feeble half-apologies and explanations we’ve heard so far from this administration and from the director of the EPA, who testified yesterday.
“There is clearly a double standard between the way the EPA treats itself and how it treats everyone else.
“The Environmental Protection Agency failed to do the proper planning before it caused this disaster.
“I believe it also failed to do the proper work before writing regulations like its Waters of the United States rule, and its so-called Clean Power Plan.
“With this spill, the agency’s careless approach has done terrible damage to Americans living along the Animas River and other waterways.
“Its reckless and irresponsible regulations will have a devastating effect on the jobs and lives of millions of Americans all across the country.
“At our hearing yesterday the EPA administrator continued to try to downplay the impact of its actions.
“The agency needs to step back, and rethink its priorities.
“This disaster happened because the EPA is inept at its job.
“There should be no more trying to deflect attention from its failure. No more trying to grab additional power that it can use to do more damage.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has been out of control for too long.
“It’s time for Congress and President Obama to hold the EPA accountable for its failure.
“It’s time to rein in this runaway bureaucracy before it does more damage.”