Luján Questions EPA On Gold King Mine Spill

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján

U.S. CONGRESSIONAL News:

  • Calls for Improved Communication and Better Mitigation Plans

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District questioned a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official about the Gold King Mine spill Friday at an Environment and the Economy subcommittee hearing. 

While Luján is not a member of the subcommittee, he participated in the hearing, “Oversight of Federal Facility Cleanup under CERCLA,” as a member of the full Energy and Commerce Committee.

Luján questioned Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response for the EPA, on the EPA’s lack of communication immediately following the spill and on a report that the EPA was not prepared to handle a worst case scenario at the mine site.

“According to an EPA memorandum, the release occurred on Aug. 5 at 10:51 a.m. However EPA headquarters, Region 6, and Region 9 were not notified until 11 a.m. the next morning,” Luján said during the hearing. “I just shared that my office found out through news accounts. San Juan County officials, the Navajo Nation, leaders in New Mexico at the Environment Department were not notified. They found out the same way that we did, it’s my understanding. So that’s unacceptable, and we need to fix this and learn from this.

“One of the suggestions that I shared with Administrator McCarthy yesterday was looking to see what we could do to piggy back off the Amber Alert system for abducted children or to the natural disaster alert system and weather disaster system which notifies everyone with their mobile phones and billboards as everything happens,” Luján added.

Luján also shared the frustration felt by communities that have been impacted and called on the EPA to work closely with them.

“We need to make sure that we are working with all of the impacted communities to the utmost degree, both of the Ute tribes that were impacted, the Navajo Nation, the County of San Juan in New Mexico, the State of New Mexico, as well as our brothers and sisters in other impacted states,” Luján said to Assistant Administrator Stanislaus. “There has been a frustration by the leadership of the Navajo Nation and we need to make sure we’re working closely with them and someone is appointed to work directly with them, whether it’s from Region 9 or from headquarters, so we can make sure all of their concerns are addressed.”

Finally, Luján raised his concerns that EPA was not properly prepared to handle an accident at the mine, and the importance of addressing this failure as Congress turns its attention to the cleanup of other abandoned mines.

“It’s my understanding the work order at the Gold King Mine site called for the construction of a holding pond to capture and treat contaminated water, but that the pond was not completed before the accident. In addition, EPA Deputy Administrator Meiburg said provisions for a worst case scenario were not included in the work plan,” Luján said. “I think it’s important that we understand that, that we make sure that anytime that work will be done in the future that we get to the bottom of that…

As we get an assessment of all the abandoned mines that we have in the United States, and especially those that are in a condition like the Gold King Mine, where a breach or an accident can impact water supplies for millions of people in surrounding communities, we need to have a real conversation in the Congress to make sure we are working to fix this. Because this devastated not just the irrigators and water users in the district that I represent and in Colorado, but entire water drinking supplies in the states of Nevada and Arizona could be impacted depending on the kind of breach that we see.”

To watch Luján’s full exchange during the subcommittee hearing, click here.

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