#AnimasRiver: No criminal charges in #GoldKingMine spill — US

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From the Associated Press via The Indian Express:

US prosecutors have declined to pursue criminal charges against an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency over a massive mine wastewater spill that fouled rivers in three states, a federal watchdog agency said. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General disclosed Wednesday that it recently presented evidence to prosecutors that the unnamed employee may have violated the Clean Water Act and given false statements. However, office spokesman Jeffrey Lagda said the US Attorney’s Office in Colorado declined to pursue a case against the employee. In lieu of prosecution, an investigative report will be sent to senior EPA management for review, Lagda said.

EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said agency personnel would review the investigative report, but she offered no further comment. Members of Congress had pressed for a criminal investigation into the EPA’s role in the disaster. A review of the accident completed last year by the US Interior Department determined the cleanup crew could have avoided the spill but rushed the work. Several Republican lawmakers on Wednesday said the lack of a prosecution gives the “appearance of hypocrisy” in light of the Justice Department’s record of pursuit of criminal charges in other cases referred by the EPA.

US Attorney spokesman Jeff Dorschner declined to comment, citing the office’s longstanding practice of not discussing cases where prosecution is declined. The apparent end of the government’s criminal probe comes after the Inspector General’s Office in July said it had suspended a separate examination of the EPA cleanup program pending the outcome of the investigation. That separate examination will now resume, the office said. No timeline for completion was provided.

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown and Sadie Gurman) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The apparent end of the government’s criminal probe comes after the Inspector General’s Office in July said it had suspended a separate examination of the EPA cleanup program pending the outcome of the investigation.

That separate examination will now resume, the office said. No timeline for completion was provided.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

After a yearlong investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, having been presented the facts of the incident by the Office of Inspector General, decided on Oct. 6 to not prosecute “the EPA employee.”

The release did not name the employee.

The EPA’s temporary on-scene coordinator, Hays Griswold, was in charge Aug. 5, 2015, when a contract crew released an estimated 3 million gallons of mine waste tainted with heavy metals into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Immediately after the announcement was sent, the Office of Inspector General’s spokesman Jeffrey Lagda posted that the would be out of the office until 2:30 p.m. Thursday. He later said in an email that he “cannot comment on the investigation at this stage.”

The announcement said in lieu of criminal prosecution, “the OIG will prepare a Report of Investigation (ROI) for submission to EPA’s senior management for review. The EPA is required to report to the OIG any administrative action taken as a result of the ROI.”

After the announcement, U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and House Oversight and Government Reform Interior Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, demanded the Department of Justice explain its decision to not pursue criminal charges.

In a Wednesday statement, several congressional members said the Office of Inspector General had found evidence of criminal wrongdoing, including providing false statements and violating the Clean Water Act.

“By not taking up the case, the Department of Justice looks like it is going easy on its colleagues in EPA,” the statement said. “Its lack of action on these charges gives the appearance of hypocrisy, and seems to indicate that there is one set of rules for private citizens and another for the federal government. The EPA disaster deserves the same level of accountability to which private citizens are held.”

The committees asked for a briefing on the decision no later than Oct. 26.

Multiple local representatives did not respond to requests for comment late Wednesday.

Republican Congressman Scott Tipton wrote in an emailed response, “This disaster and the EPA’s response or lack of response is bigger than any one employee and was the result of numerous failures at multiple levels at the EPA.

“I will continue to work to make sure responsible parties are held accountable and affected communities are compensated and made whole,” he wrote.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Instead of a criminal prosecution, the EPA’s internal investigators “will submit a report of an investigation to the agency that details the findings of our investigation,” OIG spokesman Jeff Lagda said in response to queries.

“The agency, not the OIG, will then determine what administrative action they may take against the employee based on that report,” Lagda said. “The EPA will have to report to the OIG what administrative action the EPA will undertake.”

The EPA’s quasi-independent OIG launched an investigation into the Gold King disaster more than a year ago. Federal officials later, driven by members of Congress, began a criminal probe.

The OIG is part of the EPA and investigates agency activities.

The OIG investigators “presented facts to the U.S. Attorney’s Office” in Denver “about whether an EPA employee may have violated” the Clean Water Act and the statute prohibiting false statements, according to a statement Lagda issued Wednesday afternoon…

EPA investigators now will return to completing work requested by Congress related to the Gold King Mine spill, Lagda said.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Barrasso of Wyoming, members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in May sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging a criminal probe.

Other federal agencies also have reviewed EPA conduct linked to the Gold King Mine. An Interior Department report issued last fall deemed the Gold King disaster preventable, the result of errors over many years in handling toxic discharges from inactive mines.

Click here to take a stroll back in time through the Coyote Gulch Animas River category.

On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

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