GOP’s Animas River EPA Dogpile Is Totally Ridiculous

Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

A press release from Koch brothers-linked conservative group Advancing Colorado kicks off our look at the mine wastewater spill near Silverton that’s been making nationwide headlines for several days. As anyone who doesn’t live in a mine knows by now, a federal Environmental Protection Agency crew working last week on remediation of mine water pollution accidentally dislodged debris holding back a vast quantity of polluted mine water in a complex of abandoned mines along Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River, sending a massive flood that’s been festering in the area for many years surging through Durango and into New Mexico toward the Colorado River drainage system.

As Advancing Colorado’s press release today makes clear, the disaster presents a political opportunity for the EPA’s legion of haters on the right to dump their pre-existing animus into the Animas:

“The so-called Environmental ‘Protection’ Agency needs to be held responsible for the disaster they created and the damage they have inflicted on our environment and economy. This environmental disaster is just one more example of why people do not trust the job-killing EPA and we have every right to question why our hard-earned money is going to such an incompetent and mismanaged government agency. This is now a multi-state issue, and people have every right to be absolutely outraged with the EPA, and the officials who continue to provide support and cover for this agency.”

Ellen Roberts.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts (R).

In news coverage this weekend, Republican politicians affected maximum indignation over the idea that the government agency charged with protecting the environment had “caused” an environmental disaster:

“We’re hearing that this is somewhat to be expected living in a mining region, but what is very clear from this is the communications were not adequate, and they underestimated how severe this was,” state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said Friday. “It does have significant consequences, both in terms of the environmental issue and in terms of trust.

“The Animas River, to Durango and Southwest Colorado, is not just a river, it is our lifeblood in so many ways,” she said. “What we see before us is horrifying, so I think I personally have very high expectations of what the EPA is going to do to fix this.”

Rep. Scott Tipton (R).

Rep. Scott Tipton (R).

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton piled on for good measure:

“Coloradans deserve to know the EPA’s plan for cleaning up the mess they’ve made and their plan for the long-term restoration of the river habitat impacted,” Gardner said…

“The poor communication is unacceptable,” Tipton said in a statement. “If a mining operator or other private business caused the spill to occur, the EPA would be all over them. The EPA admits fault, and as such must be accountable and held to the same standard.”

As the story is being told on talk radio and other conservative media channels, the EPA may as well have been the ones who dug these mines, extracted all the gold and other metal resources, and left them to fester for the next generation to clean up. We get that anyone who has found themselves on the wrong end of the EPA’s regulations, from gold mines to coal mines, would feel a vengeful urge to lash out–or, as with Advancing Colorado’s press release above, to order your “grassroots” surrogates to do so. Politicians backed by industries that chafe under EPA regulations are similarly jumping at the chance to score points off this EPA remediation crew’s misfortune.

Sen. Cory Gardner.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

But without that ulterior motive driving the criticism, it falls apart under even casual scrutiny. Of course the EPA didn’t dig these privately-owned abandoned mines, mines that were spewing polluted water at the rate of hundreds of gallons per minute for years before this spill. The EPA was working in the mines above Silverton to remediate this pollution, with a goal of removing heavy metals from the runoff before it flowed into the Animas River at all. The mines in question were not being adequately maintained by their private owners, Sunnyside Gold Corp. Private remediation attempts to stanch the flow of mine waste arguably made the problem worse, and that mining company’s offer of $6.5 million to absolve itself from further liability was totally inadequate. Designation of the area as an EPA Superfund site, which would make far greater resources for cleanup available, is actually opposed by local interests in Silverton, in part because they would like mining to someday resume–and a Superfund cleanup onsite would obviously make that a problem.

Bottom line: there is a lot of information still to be released about what exactly happened at the entrance to the Gold King Mine last Wednesday, but we know that the larger problem of thousands of mines across Colorado and the West leaching pollution into our water supplies is a problem the EPA is working to solve–not to worsen. With billions in private profits extracted from our mountains at a time when no protections existed to ensure it was done safely, responsibility now falls to the EPA to protect today’s citizens from harm. Without question, if the EPA’s actions cause harm, they’re responsible for that too. But the original cause of this disaster–private mining interests who sought to maximize profits and skirt liability at every step–cannot be laid at the EPA’s feet.

And to attempt to do that for usual-suspect political purposes, bashing the EPA over this spill because you don’t believe in climate change or because you take money from the fossil fuel industry, should outrage everyone impacted by it.

26 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlue says:

    Jonathan Lockwood is such a goddamn tool.

  2. taterheaptom says:

    What has Rep. Tipton done on this issue, which has long been identified as a problem and threat, in the 5 years he has been sucking a 6-figure salary off the taxpayers' teat supposedly representing this district, or during his time representing SW Colorado in the state house?  Thousands of leaking toxic mines in his district as he votes to 'repeal' Obamacare 5 dozen times.  And fails. Each and Every time. What an embarrasment. 

    No one respects Scott Tipton.  He is hated by the right and left.  He is propped up by Texas and other out-of-state money, and won his seat in the Tea Party wave of '10.  How unfortunate we are. 


  3. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    There is a good film documentary from the late 1980s that explored the problems of waste water drainage from abandoned mines in Colorado; "Down Wind, Down Stream." I think it appeared on PBS.

  4. Moderatus says:

    Scott Tipton is right. If a private company had done this, Colorado Pols and the Democrats would be screaming bloody murder. But since it was a precious government agency that caused this massive environmental disaster, Pols leaps to the EPA's defense.

    Double standard much?

    If the EPA causes pollution, they need to pay like any private entity would pay. Maybe it's time to consider Libby Szabo's bill allowing businesses who break a rule to have one chance to fix it before being prosecuted. The EPA wants that courtesy today I guarantee it!

    But giving the EPA a pass while vilifying private industry, Colorado Pols reveals how far out of touch they are. Start siding with the people for once instead of the state.

    • mamajama55 says:

      The EPA didn't put the tailings there. The EPA goofed in the clean up process. Companies should be required to clean up their own messes. It's a family value, right?

      Plenty of blame to go around.

      And Pols gets 10 points for the phrase, "EPA’s legion of haters on the right to dump their pre-existing animus into the Animas".

      • bullshit! says:

        Righties are so desperate to bash the EPA they will eagerly step on their own dicks to get there.

      • MichaelBowman says:

        The Earth's Battery is Running Low  (a/k/a "things you won't hear fall from the lips of the #QuidProKoch crowd”)

        It is time for real courageous leadership:

        "If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled."

        ~Pope Francis

    • taterheaptom says:

      No answer I see, typical from a talking point puking idiot.  Here is the question again: WTF has Scott Tipton done on this issue in his years representing SW Colorado sucking off the public's dime?  It is not something that we just suddenly became aware of.  The mining industry has fought royalty reform for decades, a century really, that would specifically have funded 'orphan' mine clean up.  Sycophants like Tipton, sucking at not only the taxpayers tit but also their corporate sugar daddies, blocked it then looked the other way while this very disaster loomed.  He is the legislator–remember–Congress makes the laws.  Where the hell was Tipton????  Bump on a log wasting pubic monies doing diddly.  Tea Party moron. 

      • JeffcoBlue says:

        Tipton doesn't give a shit about Durango, it's not like he ever carries it.

      • Duke Cox says:

        Did you use diddly and pubic in the same sentence on purpose…or is it just a typo?wink

      • Conserv. Head Banger says:

        In this case, I think Moderatus has a point at least about the Szabo bill, altho I have not read the bill. Perhaps Mod or someone else could tell us what year it was introduced.

        Tater: the only thing I can find of use within your anti-Tipton rant is the failure of reform efforts for the long outdated 1872 mining act. And indeed, 1872 is long overdue for change. I assume that's what you mean with your sentence about royalty reform. Otherwise, suggest that you look in the mirror first before you call somebody else a "moron" or "puking idiot."    Regards,  C.H.B.

        • MichaelBowman says:

          Moddy and Szabo in the same sentence. C.H.B., you made me blow coffee thru my nose this morning.  

        • Progressicat says:

          HB14-1033 (link to fiscal note).

        • BlueCat says:

          Agree that the EPA screwed up royally, especially in initially down playing it and failing to to take immediate action to warn all of the disaster that was headed their way. But  the real, primary, root cause for decades of ongoing, if sometimes less dramatically sudden, disaster has always been the out of control mining industry that has simply never given a damn about workers, the public, the environment or anything that might take away a penny of profit. Knew as soon as the story broke that the right would use it in their bullshit narrative that everything is the fault of government, not industry.

          Just like they recently jumped on one illegal immigrant committing murder as proof that crime originating with these immigrants is a major problem even though the crime rate is much higher among American citizens and there is, in fact, no empirical evidence of increased illegal immigration being connected with increased crime nor any evidence that illegal immigration is on the increase.

          Just like they would no doubt use the next case of in person voter fraud (probably have to wait a long time for that one since the rate of incidence makes it a risk many magnitudes less significant than the risk of getting hit by lightning) as proof that draconian legislation that could cause millions of legitimate voters difficulties in voting really isn't all about voter suppression.

          Just like any time a police officer kills a person of a color in a justified situation they use it as proof that there is no racism or injustice involved in any police killing of an unarmed person of color or any difference in treatment based on race at all.

          So excuse us if we find it difficult to listen to the ravings these incidents evoke from the irrational, hate mongering and, yes, highly moronic right, as so perfectly and consistently exemplified by modster, with much tolerance or equanimity.

          Salutations, BC.

        • taterheaptom says:

          Dearest CHB-

          You I find merely irascibly naive, Moddy is the one I believe to be puking up talking points and, based on past performance, is indeed idiotic.  Scott Tipton is, by most appearances, not literally a moron.   However in the more standard use of the term, I stand by that assessment as well. 

          Most of the efforts to reform the 1872 General Mining law included royalty reform and specifically directed many of those monies to mine clean up. 

          Tipton, like Congress overall and the Republicans in congress more specifically, has been resistant to any mining reform. Tipton, it appears, has been resistant to doing much of anything, although he has had one or two decent bills in the 5 years of paying him a 6-figure annual salary and staffing his operations, which do—in fact—seem primarily to be about regurgitating boilerplate GOP talking points. 

          Oh, and stuff it, with much respect and hugs,



          • Duke Cox says:

            All this civility crap is beginning to get on my nerves……

            just saying….

            • MichaelBowman says:

              I'm with you, Duke. While I'd normally lean to civility, my last two sojourns to Dumphuckistan have convinced me that mocking the most vocal of these ignoramus' is in order. Thus my repeating phrase 'black squatter in their White House'.  Anyone who knows me knows this isn't a swat at POTUS. I think he's done a bang-up job given the cards he was handed. I do think history will judge him kindly. My phrase is exactly what they're thinking: open hostility to POTUS and Dems alike. It's a disease and I'm finished trying to nuance their hostility. It's cognitive dissonance gone awry. Irrational. Hateful. 

    • Duke Cox says:

      The Sunnyside Gold Corp. is "the people"..?..

  5. MichaelBowman says:

    The same Gardner (and Tipton) who sponsored the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act in 2011 – a political stunt to address a mythical scenario and get the Dumphuckistanian's panties in a wad?

    The Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act — an extension of the GOP-led House’s crusade to undermine the nation’s bedrock environmental laws — is spurring its share of confusion.

  6. Budded says:

    So, once they see a chance to rip on the EPA, these charlatans suddenly care about the environment. Screw them!

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