Animas Animus: From Mindless EPA Bashing To The Real Issue

UPDATE #2: The Denver Post’s Jesse Paul:

For roughly two decades, Silverton has pushed back against the EPA designating the area a Superfund site, which could have brought substantial remediation funds. In 2014 the EPA warned the town that without such a label, funds for long-term remediation would be scarce.

Town and county officials say the new resolution is not a request for Superfund designation, though such an option is still on the table…

Silverton had rejected Superfund designation out of fears of the stigma associated with it. Superfund sites are on the national priority list for hazardous waste cleanup and can attract massive sums of federal aid.

Mark Eddy, a spokesman for the town and San Juan County, said Tuesday while this petition for federal funds is not linked to Superfund, it does not remove that option.

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UPDATE: FOX 31 reports this afternoon that officials from San Juan County and the town of Silverton passed a joint resolution last night seeking federal aid to clean up their polluting mines–acknowledging that the problem is longstanding, and making no attempt to blame the EPA:

“The people of the town of Silverton and San Juan County understand that this problem is in our district and we feel we bear a greater responsibility to our downstream neighbors to help find a solution to the issue of leaking mines,” the resolution said.

“We have been working together for over 20 years to try to deal with the environmental threat of the idled mines in the area, but we’ve never had the resources necessary to get the job done,” Silverton town administrator Bill Gardner said in a statement. “We are committed to working with our downstream partners to make sure a disaster like the Gold King spill never ever happens again.”

…The joint resolution says federal funding could pay for building and operating a water treatment facility and further remediation of the contaminated mines in the area.

Here’s the full language of the joint resolution. This significantly more contrite stance from the local stakeholders in Silverton, no longer deflecting blame out of political expediency–though we’re obliged to point out that the “resources necessary to get the job done” have been repeatedly rejected by these same local officials–should be regarded as a very positive development.

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Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

After weeks of grandstanding politicians making speeches, and conservative astroturf “grassroots” groups issuing over-the-top press releases vilifying the Environmental Protection Agency for the spill of mine wastewater into the Animas River early this month, we’re no closer to answering the most important question: how do we prevent another disaster from the derelict, polluted mines above Silverton, Colorado?

As everyone not on the well-funded low-information gubmint-bashing bandwagon knows, the EPA unleashed the spill into Cement Creek above Silverton while attempting to remediate what was well known by all stakeholders to be a rapidly worsening minewater pollution problem. Contaminated runoff had been building up for years behind hastily-erected bulkheads in disused commercial mines, while mine owners from small-time local outfits to Canadian gold mining giant Kinross pointed fingers at each other. About the only thing Silverton locals and mining corporations could agree on was that they didn’t want the EPA declaring the area a Superfund site. Mining companies were afraid that operations would not be able to resume, and other locals feared the damage to Silverton’s “repuation.”

Well, as the Durango Herald reports today, the debate over Silverton’s “reputation” has taken on a very different meaning in the wake of the spill. And the part of the story frothing EPA bashers don’t want to talk about is taking center stage:

The Animas River Stakeholders Group – an un-elected volunteer group that for two decades has been at the center of the debate about how to address the pollution gushing out of Silverton’s defunct mines – is to meet Tuesday for the first time since Gold King Mine spewed 3 million gallons of sludge downstream on Aug. 5…

The meeting comes at a time when the question of whether the Environmental Protection Agency should list Silverton’s oozing mines under Superfund has taken on new urgency for both downstream communities such as Durango and people in Silverton.

Mine water retention ponds near Silverton. Photo credit: EPA

Mine water retention ponds near Silverton. Photo credit: EPA

On the one hand, you have basically every Republican politician and allied interest group in the state focusing their attention solely on the EPA’s role in this latest spill. On the other, you have stakeholders from the Animas River’s headwaters in Silverton all the way down to the river’s end and beyond–tens of thousands of people–who understand that the problem is much older and much bigger, and that this was just the latest symptom.

And those people are beginning to understand something else: a small faction in Silverton, Colorado, population 629, and big-money mining interests behind them, have put these tens of thousands in danger for their own self-interest:

Facebook users have been planning to crash the meeting for weeks. Tom Newman, writing on The Durango Herald’s website, challenged others to attend in the wake of the Gold King blowout and go “person to person” to ask why Silvertonians still spurn Superfund designation…

Even in recent years, as pollution from Silverton-area mines worsened – killing 3 out of 4 fish species living in the Animas below Bakers Bridge – San Juan County officials resisted the EPA’s warnings that the defunct mines needed to be placed under Superfund, saying they preferred working on the problem through the stakeholders’ group. [Pols emphasis]

But since the Gold King blowout, skeptics downstream and in Silverton have questioned whether a cleanup can be accomplished through the stakeholders’ group – which counts representatives from Sunnyside Gold Corp., the last major mining company to operate in the area, and San Juan Corp., the owner of Gold King Mine, among its members.

Folks, it was always going to come back to this. The last few weeks of nonstop bashing of the EPA by opportunistic Republican politicians, who never once gave a shit about the Animas River but became its come-lately champions in order to attack the EPA on unrelated issues, have accomplished absolutely nothing to solve the very real and ongoing problem of pollution flowing out of Silverton’s mines. Releasing “Good Samaritans” from liability for their own cleanup accidents is one idea, but it can’t possibly solve a problem this big–not in Silverton, or the many other polluting mines throughout the West. No one is suggesting that the EPA be held blameless for the harm from this latest spill, but fixating on the EPA instead of the pollution they were trying to clean up is an inexcusable distraction.

Hopefully, that’s about to end. Because whatever the solution is, we’re going to need the EPA.

13 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlue says:

    Oh fuck your facts and logic and history, Pols. EPA! EPA! Benghazi! EPA! Jonathan Lockwood has spoken.

  2. Silverton and San Juan leaders last night got together to create a joint resolution seeking Federal funds for cleanup.

     

    • bullshit! says:

      “We have been working together for over 20 years to try to deal with the environmental threat of the idled mines in the area, but we’ve never had the resources necessary to get the job done,” Silverton town administrator Bill Gardner said in a statement.

      That would be the Superfund resources they have declined over and over, right?

  3. Diogenesdemar says:

    So the freedom-loving patriots ("… just don't call us Ray superfund …") are now ready to capitulate to the diabolical plan of the Feds? 

    "Excellent!!" [joining hands fingertip-to-fingertip] …

    • Moderatus says:

      Do they have a choice?

      • Sure – they could assume legal liability the next time crap comes spilling out of the mines, since they would be the ones legally responsible for refusing help.

        I'm sure Silverton, San Juan County, and the mine owners would love to be sued by every jurisdiction downstream.

        • Moderatus says:

          So no, they don't have a choice. That's all I was asking.

          • BlueCat says:

            They could stand on their principles no matter the cost? Or, alternately, admit that the federal government, the only government of the country called the United States of America which your kind is forever blathering about loving so much, has a vital and necessary role to play? Just kidding!

            • Diogenesdemar says:

              Nah, that would violate the "Job Creator/Patriot's" principle of privatizing all the income while socializing any costs …

              … so many principles, so few people of principle!

    • Wong21fr says:

      Sure, as long as it doesn't mention the word "Superfund".  Maybe the mines could be cleaned up under SCMRA and put into reclamation- just find any kind of pretext that the mining was done for coal.  There's probably an appetite by the feds and the locals to twist that law to get a cleanup going.

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