EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is taking heat for refusing to powwow with officials from Navajo Nation at a congressional hearing on the massive mining spill caused by agency workers.
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop tore into McCarthy for refusing to sit at the same table as the tribal members. “I understand Administrator McCarthy agreed to come only if she appeared first and on her own panel — refusing to sit alongside representatives of states and tribes that traveled across the country to discuss the disaster her agency unleashed in their backyard,” Bishop said during Wednesday’s hearing.
McCarthy appeared on her own panel that came before a second panel that included officials from the Navajo and Ute tribes, whose lands were impacted by the EPA-caused mine spill, along with state officials from Colorado and New Mexico.
State and tribal officials have been furious with the federal government’s response to the spill. Critics say the EPA didn’t notify states and tribes quickly enough and was reluctant to share informationwith those affected by the spill.
“Your first call was to the media, not the Navajo Nation,” Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz told McCarthy in a heated exchange.
Chaffetz also slammed McCarthy for handing out claims forms the Navajo say would have stripped tribal members of their rights to being compensated for any future damages from the spill. On top of that, Navajo officials have claimed the EPA gave them tainted water to use on their crops and livestock.
Navajo Nation has threatened to sue the EPA over its handling of the spill and for handing out compensation forms which they saw as swindling tribal members. Navajo President Russell Begaye told senators in a Wednesday hearing that “the U.S. EPA has abandoned us.”
In August, EPA contractors accidentally unleashed three million gallons of wastewater from the Gold King Mine in Colorado. The toxic orange plume of heavy metals made its way into the Animas River and San Juan River across three states and tribal lands.
The EPA has taken responsibility for the spill, saying it was working with the state of Colorado to prevent a blowout at Gold King Mine. Ironically, they instead caused a major blowout. But McCarthy and Democrats tried to take the focus off the EPA-caused spill by highlight that it paled in comparison to the wastewater that leaks from abandoned mines in the region every year.
McCarthy did, however, say the agency could have done better in its response, but refused to put any blame on an agency employees or contractors for the spill.
The EPA’s own review of the mine blowout found the agency chose not to use an “expensive and technically challenging” procedure when working on Gold King Mine. Though the internal review claimed a mine blowout was inevitable.
“Because of the soil and rock conditions, the access and drilling of a hole into the Adit from above would have been quite costly and require much more planning and multiple filed seasons to accomplish,” the EPA’s internal review says. “Although difficult and therefore expensive and technically challenging, this procedure may have been able to discover the pressurized conditions that turned out to cause the blowout.”
Bishop also attacked Interior Sec. Sally Jewell for refusing the House natural resource committee’s invitation to testify in the hearing. Instead, Jewell’s staff sent over an unsigned statement for the record which explained how the Interior Department is handling abandoned mines on federal land. Interior also refused to reveal any details on its ongoing investigation of EPA’s Gold King Mine spill.
“EPA is not alone in its shameful behavior. The Department of the Interior has been nearly invisible in the wake of the spill — despite nearly every one of its agencies having jurisdiction,” Bishop said. “Let me be clear. Sally Jewell’s refusal to testify today is especially egregious and disappointing.”
This report, by Casey Harper, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.