WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) issued the following statement marking one year since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused the Gold King Mine disaster.
On August 5, 2015, an EPA-supervised crew at the Gold King Mine in Colorado released roughly 3 million gallons of wastewater into Cement Creek, which flows into the Animas River in Colorado and onward to the San Juan River in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The Animas/San Juan River crosses the reservations of both the Navajo Nation and Southern Ute Indian tribe. The contaminated water contained heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.
The EPA did not notify tribes downriver for several days. According to estimates by former Congressional Budget Office Director and American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the spill cleanup and impact could cost up to $27.7 billion.
“It has been one year since the EPA caused this devastating spill,” said Chairman Barrasso and Senator McCain. “The Navajo Nation, the Southern Ute, the Hopi tribe and many others have had to deal with this mess. The EPA has done a poor job of taking responsibility for the spill, cleaning up the toxins, helping the farmers and families affected, and remaining transparent throughout this process.
“Farmers and ranchers on the Navajo Nation have lost a year’s worth of income to provide for their families and still don’t know the long-term effects of the spill.
“We are glad that a criminal investigation is taking place, as this is an important step in providing accountability for the EPA’s negligence. We must make sure that this kind of catastrophe is never repeated.”
On September 16, 2015, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the “EPA’s Gold King Mine Disaster: Examining the Harmful Impacts to Indian Country,” which featured testimony from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
On April 13, 2016, Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Jon Tester (D-MT), chairman and vice chairman of the SCIA, subpoenaed Administrator McCarthy or Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus to testify at a field hearing. The invitation for Stanislaus to testify was originally sent on March 28, but the EPA declined to send him or any other witness.
On April 22, 2016, the committee held a field oversight hearing on “Examining EPA’s Unacceptable Response to Indian Tribes.”
On May 3, 2016, Barrasso and McCain sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting a Department of Justice criminal investigation into the EPA’s responsibility for the mine spill.
In July 2016, the EPA Office of the Inspector General publicly stated that a criminal investigation was ongoing concerning the Gold King Mine disaster.