Republican Animas River BS Reaches Flood Stage

EPA treats wastewater at Gold King Mine. Photo credit: EPA

EPA treats wastewater at Gold King Mine. Photo credit: EPA

For nearly two weeks now, local and national headlines have been dominated by a spill of acidic mine wastewater by an Environmental Protection Agency work crew into a tributary of the Animas River near Silverton. Investigating longstanding but recently accelerated minewater pollution into Cement Creek, workers punched through debris blocking an abandoned mine entrance, unleashing a torrent of yellow water that flowed through Durango and into neighboring states. As of today, the Animas River has re-opened for recreation and irrigation, and work continues to determine the extent of the harm done–with a sense of heightened awareness of the tens of thousands of abandoned mines across the West, many leaking pollution into our precious water supplies.

On the other hand, for some politicians including many local Republicans, this disaster has become an opportunity to attack one of their foremost bêtes noires–an opportunity they’ve seized to the utmost, even at the long-term expense of their own credibility. As the AP reports via the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Authorities say rivers tainted by last week’s massive spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine are starting to recover, but for the Environmental Protection Agency the political fallout from the disaster could linger.

The federal agency’s critics are already seeking to use its much-maligned handling of the mine spill to undercut the Obama administration’s rollout of major regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the nation’s power plants. [Pols emphasis] Members of oversight committees in both the House and Senate say they are planning hearings after Congress returns from its August recess…

For Republicans, it was an opportunity to put the EPA on the defensive.

“I think we have seen what happens when the EPA comes after private industry — they come after them with heavy hand,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and we have seen a lack of communication and coordination. … This goes to the core competency of the EPA.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R).

House Speaker John Boehner (R).

Some responses on the right to the spill, like from Koch-related conservative advocacy group Advancing Colorado, have been laughably ridiculous. But with this latest story, we’re beginning to see press coverage back away from the right’s early success at turning this spill into an EPA hatefest, and the beginnings of recognition that Republicans are misusing the Animas River minewater spill to undermine the EPA on totally unrelated issues.

“The House will continue to monitor the situation and the appropriate committees will conduct rigorous oversight to make sure the administration is assessing the damage the EPA has caused and taking action to clean it up,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Now that his EPA has accepted full responsibility, I expect President Obama to demand full accountability for what happened here.”

Rep. Cory Gardner (R).

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

With Republicans from House Speaker John Boehner on down piling on with ever more bellicose anti-EPA talking points, it’s necessary to return to what actually happened in the mountains above Silverton two weeks ago this coming Wednesday. This weekend, one of many excellent stories on the spill published in the Durango Herald got to the heart of the matter far better than most coverage we’ve seen. Contrary to what Boehner, Cory Gardner, and all the other Republicans hoping to exploit this spill for unrelated political gains are saying, the EPA was working to clean up pollution, not create it. The EPA did not “cause” the pollution in the mines above Silverton, private mining interests did.

In fact, the EPA has been trying to solve the problem for years. Who resisted? The local population of Silverton, and the mostly corporate owners of the mines doing the polluting.

Three million gallons of sludge rushed out of Gold King Mine last week, flooding the Animas River with higher levels of metals than usual, causing economic and environmental damage in three states. Yet in the wake of the disaster, many Silvertonians are redoubling their resistance to a Superfund listing the Environmental Protection Agency has long argued is necessary to deal with the town’s network of draining mines…

Tim Hewett said the “pro-Superfund forces are very vocal right now,” but the majority of the town’s residents still oppose any such listing on the National Priorities List, fearing the designation will ruin the town’s reputation, strangle credit and blight the local economy.

…But to the thousands of people living downstream of Silverton, the problem isn’t so much the EPA as it is Silverton residents’ decades-long refusal to accept that their mines require federal intervention. [Pols emphasis]

Mine water retention ponds near Silverton. Photo credit: EPA

Mine water retention ponds near Silverton. Photo credit: EPA

Here’s the bottom line: a few people in the small town of Silverton, along with mining companies like Canadian Kinross Gold who would someday like to restarting mining operations there, have deliberately fought off a Superfund designation for many years. Their fight to “protect” the town’s “reputation” and mining profit center from the EPA has endangered communities downstream along the Animas River that number in the tens of thousands–17,000 in Durango, almost 50,000 in Farmington, New Mexico.

It’s got to end, folks. The political abuse of this spill to attack the EPA on unrelated issues is a massive insult to the intelligence of the voters, and reporters and news outlets who subsidize this attack are grossly disserving the public. The true cause of this disaster, mining companies unwilling to clean up their mess, and local interests too fearful for the future of their almost-ghost town to make waves, is in no way the fault of the EPA. The EPA was up there trying to determine the extent of a problem everyone knew was getting worse. Blaming the EPA is like blaming the paramedic who arrives to treat your injuries.

Protect the jobs of hundreds, or the health and well-being of tens of thousands? That’s the real question at stake here, and it’s the question that opportunistic grandstanding Republican politicians, deep-pocketed polluter mining companies, and a few short-sighted residents of an old Colorado mining town hope you never ask.

Because the answer is obvious.

17 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlue says:

    You think Boehner, Gardner, and the Denver Post give a fuck about what's true? Advancing Colorado is probably funded by Kinross Gold.

    This is total bullshit. Personally, if I lived in Durango I'd organize a protest in Silverton while all the press is up there. Like Spock said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. 70,000 people matter more than a few straggling residents of a ghost town.

  2. Moderatus says:

    BREAKING: Colorado's Denver based top liberal blog tells residents of historic mountain town to screw themselves.


    • The EPA was formed largely because local and state level interests often prevented state agencies from doing the right thing. This accident, all that led up to it, and all that is happening right now, are great examples of that faulty reasoning.

      Yes, Silverton residents and mining interests are wrong in not wanting a full scale EPA cleanup. They are endangering their own livelihood as well as the health of many people downstream.

      Do you disagree with the assessment or are you just griefing the blog?

      • BlueCat says:

        He's never coming back to read replies, PR.

      • Moderatus says:

        Of course the residents of Silverton and the companies that do business there have a voice in the process. Are you saying they don't?

        Colorado Pols is just proving their urban liberal reputation is deserved at Silverton's expense. Not to mention that THE EPA CAUSED THE SPILL.

        Not the mining companies, the EPA. Not Silverton, the EPA. Not the Navajos, the EPA.

        Everybody knows it and that's why you're losing the war of public opinion.

        • JeffcoBlue says:

          Oh yeah, let 70,000 people drink polluted water so Silverton doesn't have to admit the water is polluted.

          What. The. Fuck?

          • Moderatus says:

            Everybody's downstream from somebody. Remember when Arvada dumped sewage right into Westminster's water tap? The water in the Animas has been polluted since before the first mine was drilled.

            • BlueCat says:

              I see. Everybody's downstream from somebody so big deal. You do realize that, in saying that, you completely discredit all of your side's outrage with the EPA. Hey, no big deal, according to you. We've always had pollution, Deal with it. 

              You also replace "Colorado's Denver based top liberal blog" with yourself  in your own comment to make it read as follows:

              "Moderatus tells residents of historic mountain town to screw themselves.


              Pretty sure that's not what you meant to say but you really are incapable of thinking things through. Home schooled by Republicans?

              I see why you usually just stick to repeating talking points. For you, that's definitely the way to go. Every time you attempt to freelance, even a little, it get's away from you. Don't change so much as a comma in the received points and at least you'll make rightie spin sense.


        • ajb says:

          The EPA didn't cause the spill; they sped it up. The spill was an ongoing problem, at a rate of over 200 gallons per minute, that EPA was attempting to fix. They screwed that up, but the 3-million gallons they sent downstream amounts to 10 days worth of the background flow rate for that mine alone. The discharge of Cement Creek has the pH of vinegar at low flows. 

          But what you're saying is that a town of 600 can poison the millions of people that live downstream. 

        • Republican 36 says:

          This is real simple. The EPA was at the Gold King mine for the purpose of alleviating the flow of contaminants into the Animus River. When the agency personnel began their work they inadvertently removed "debris" that was plugging the mine and 3 million gallons of contaminated water spilled into the Animus. The EPA is responsible for the spill – no doubt about that – but lets look at what the mining company is responsible for. The company is responsible for properly plugging the mine shaft in the first place and filling it with debris is not a proper or safe plug.

          An example of where this was done properly is Mt. Emmons in Crested Butte. There is an old silver, zinc and nickel mine that spews about 300 gallons of water per minute and the water is loaded with heavy metals. The original mine was opened in the late 19th century and then fell into disrepair.

          In the late 1970's AMAX owned the mine and through an agreement with EPA, AMAX built a water treatment plant with over capacity to treat and release the water. I don't believe that plant has ever failed. The reason it has never failed is because the concrete plug AMAX constructed has a pressure gauge that indicates how much water is behind the plug and when the pressure reaches a certain level,  a valve is opened and some of the water is released into the water treatment plant. At the Gold King Mine, the owners had never installed a proper plug or a wastewater treatment plant. Instead, they or their predecessors filled the mine with debris and walked away. That was and is a very bad idea but of course it helps maintain the bottom line because a proper system has ongoing costs.

          In the Gold King Mine case, the Republicans are trying to foist responsibility for everything that has ever happened at that site on to the back of EPA and then try and convince the public, through a perverse logic, that because EPA is responsible for unleashing the spill, the agency should be precluded from being the watchdog for our environment. They can only make that stick, if the Gold King Mine was the only action in the history of the EPA that the agency had ever undertaken in the past 45 years. The Republican logic ignores how much cleaner our air and water are now compared to 1970 when NEPA was passed. It is undeniable that all Americans live in a much cleaner environment due to the actions of the EPA. One inadvertent mistake, doesn't erase that record or even in the slightest way support the idea we need to end the EPA.

        • So Silverton gets to say what the Navajo drink… It must be cozy in your insular world.

        • Wong21fr says:

          Do you political hacks even know who owns the mines in question?  Are you aware of the ongoing dispute between San Juan Mining Co (owner of the Gold King) and Kinross (owner of the Sunnyside) over wastewater contamination due to Kinross' plugging of the American Tunnel?  San Juan Mining Co is supporting the EPA on this because they are concerned about Kinross' avoidance of any kind of remediation costs and the buck being passed onto them.

          Ask San Juan Mining who caused the spill: they'll say that the EPA accelerated it, but that Kinross is the cause of it.


          Obviously the local Colorado company doesn't give enough contributions to the GOP to get their side of story presented, but Canadian-owned Kinross certainly does.  Or did the staff supervisor forget to give you the background information when you crafted your talking points and you're the one who screwed up?


    • Diogenesdemar says:

      No one cares where you live, Moderatus.  Just go fuck yourself — it's not geographic, it's you!

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