Al­tered video adds to EPA’s woes over Gold King mine spill

Agency says redacted video was posted in er­ror

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency re­placed a doc­tored video from the Gold King mine spill with the orig­i­nal Wed­nes­day af­ter be­ing called on the dis­crep­ancy dur­ing a House com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Rep. Bill John­son, Ohio Repub­li­can, showed both ver­sions dur­ing the hear­ing be­fore the House Science, Space, and Tech­nol­ogy Com­mit­tee, point­ing out that the ver­sion posted on the EPA web­site cov­ers up the voice of a worker as con­tam­i­nated wa­ter spills from the mine say­ing, “What do we do now?”

EPA spokes­woman Laura Allen said the redacted video was “posted by mis­take.”

“The unredacted ver­sion was meant to be shared on the EPA web­site,” Ms. Allen said in an email. “We’ve since re­moved the redacted ver­sion and re­placed it with the unredacted ver­sion, as was orig­i­nally in­tended.”

The dis­crep­ancy did noth­ing to bur­nish the EPA’s im­age as Congress con­vened the first hear­ing to in­ves­ti­gate the agency’s role in the Aug. 5 spill that sent 3 mil­lion gal­lons of or­ange waste­water into Colorado’s An­i­mas River and New Mexico’s San Juan River.

Panel Repub­li­cans grilled Mathy Stanis­laus, as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor of the EPA’s Of­fice of Solid Waste and Emer­gency Re­sponse, over whether the EPA was hold­ing it­self to the same stan­dard as it would a pri­vate com­pany, as well as why the EPA-led crew had failed to mea­sure the wa­ter level be­hind the de­bris at the mine be­fore the ac­ci­dent.

“Why were the warn­ings ig­nored?” asked com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Smith.

The Texas Repub­li­can later is­sued a state­ment say­ing that “the same stan­dards that the EPA ap­plies to pri­vate com­pa­nies should also ap­ply to the EPA it­self. The EPA’s neg­li­gence is es­pe­cially in­ex­cus­able since there were known pro­ce­dures that could have pre­vented the river’s pol­lu­tion.”

Mean­while, Democrats ar­gued that the re­gion is pep­pered with old, in­ac­tive mines dat­ing back to the late 1800s that have be­come en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters wait­ing to hap­pen.

“I am glad the EPA is tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mis­takes and will work with all these com­mu­ni­ties im­pacted by these events,” said Rep. Ed Perl­mut­ter, Colorado Demo­crat, in a state­ment. “But it’s im­por­tant to keep this re­lease in per­spec­tive and un­der­stand this in­ci­dent points to a much larger prob­lem that’s been 100 years in the mak­ing.”

He said a hand­ful of mines along with the Gold King in Sil­ver­ton, Colorado, re­lease over 330 mil­lion gal­lons of con­tam­i­nated waste­water each year into the An­i­mas River, far more than the spill un­corked by the EPA.

Rep. Mark Takano, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, held up a large white ball sym­bol­iz­ing 330 mil­lion gal­lons next to a far smaller white ball rep­re­sent­ing 3 mil­lion gal­lons.

“So as a mat­ter of pro­por­tion­al­ity, I find it cu­ri­ous that this com­mit­tee is fo­cus­ing on this and spend­ing hours and hours and hours of time ... when we should be talk­ing about this,” Mr. Takano said, in­di­cat­ing the larger ball.

Mr. Smith re­sponded, “I can’t wait to use the gen­tle­man’s ar­gu­ments the next time a pri­vate com­pany dumps mil­lions of gal­lons of toxic wa­ter into a pure river.”

A more in-depth In­te­rior Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion is now un­der­way.

Asked why the EPA waited 24 hours be­fore no­ti­fy­ing lo­cal and tribal author­i­ties, Mr. Stanis­laus said the agency did no­tify down­stream users be­fore the con­tam­i­na­tion reached them, and that the EPA is mov­ing to im­prove the no­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dures.

But he was caught off guard when Mr. John­son played the orig­i­nal and edited videos from the Aug. 5 ac­ci­dent show­ing con­tam­i­nated wa­ter spilling from the mine.

Staff writer Anjali Shastry con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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