Sunday, August 9, 2015
Will Colorado and New Mexico Sue the EPA for Violations of the Clean Water Act?
The EPA unleashed an estimated 1 million gallons of polluted water into the Cement Creek 30 miles north of Silverton, Colorado. The Cement Creek flows into the Animus River through Durango and Silverton. The Animus has been seen by millions of Americans as a backdrop to scenes in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Animus is currently a leisurely 5 miles an hour flowing 126 mile bright orange, almost neon orange, river as the toxins head into the San Juan River. The orange-ish river has crossed into New Mexico on its way through Utah, ultimately settling in Lake Powell on the Colorado River. The River, chameleon like, has transformed from azure blue to orange to mustard colored and now brown as it enters New Mexico. The EPA says it can do nothing to clean the water. Natural dissipation should evaporate most of the contaminated waters with the heavy metals settling at the bottom of Lake Powell. EPA knows the wastewaters contain aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, calcium, copper, and lead. It’s a toxic mixture, but EPA says it either does not yet know the severity or doesn’t want us to know as it “studies” the River’s toxicity. If this were a spill by a corporation, EPA would demand the contaminants be removed and would impose substantial fines, and perhaps criminal prosecutions. The Obama Administration, led by the President and EPA’s Administrator would be publicly excoriating the greedy, reckless corporate malefactor. The EPA said “It was trying to protect the environment.” Private attorneys would be racing into court, filing class action suits on a multitude of claims. If this were an EPA disaster during the Bush Administration, either Bush Administration, the critics would be out in droves complaining of the incompetence of Bush and the budget cutting of the EPA. The media, to its credit, has brightly covered the story, but is not calling out for heads to roll. The Sounds of Silence are coming out of Washington on the environmental disaster. They cannot believe the EPA could muck up, just like the VA and IRS. Always remember the classic line “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” Dave Ostrander, regional EPA Director for Emergency management, said: ”This is a huge tragedy. It’s hard being on the other side of this. We explicitly respond to emergencies. We don’t cause them.” The EPA has been short on information, but an early statement would be unacceptable to the EPA if made by a private polluter: the impact on wildlife and the environment will probably be “minimal” because of the “longstanding” low water quality. This statement is especially insulting to the residents of Durango, often referred to as “River City” because of the widespread recreational uses of the river for fishing, swimming, kayaking, rafting, and tubing. Dozens of recreational workers are temporarily unemployed. EPA did not immediately notify New Mexico of the spill. The state learned of the disaster from an official of the Southern Ute Tribe. A press spokesman for New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez said: “The Governor is disturbed by the lack of information provided by the EPA to our environmental agencies in New Mexico and strongly believes the people in or communities downstream deserve to have all the information about this situation.” The EPA was investigating acid leakage from the abandoned Gold King Mine, last mined in 1923. The Rockies contain a large number of abandoned mineral mines in operation when environmental protection was unknown. Many are a toxic time bomb. An EPA supervised clean up crew, using a heavy digging machine, punched through the dam holding back the waters in the abandoned mine. EPA explained the waters were “held behind unconsolidated debris near an abandoned mine portal.” Translated, the EPA is saying a tailings dam held back the mine’s contaminated waters. These unengineered, slapstick retaining structures have given rise to some of the great environmental disasters . They require delicate care. Instead, a heavy digging machine punched through, unleashing a torrent of toxic waters. New Mexico expects compensation. The accident will be studied. The ultimate cause will be found to be human error, or a series of human errors. These are always the root causes of non-natural disasters. Government is just as likely to screw up as the private sectors because individuals make the decisions. We punish the private sector in environmental disasters of this magnitude. One cannot expect the Obama Administration to punish the EPA anymore than it has the VA, ATF, or IRS. The EPA is the Crown Jewel of the Obama Administration in its War Against Coal. The question therefore is what will Colorado and New Mexico do? Will they bring action against the EPA? How about criminal prosecutions against the responsible individuals?