The Environmental Protection Agency had, ostensibly, pulled back efforts at “mine cleanup” in the American west, as it investigated exactly what went wrong at the Gold King Mine, when EPA crews mistakenly burst through a wall, unleashing millions of gallons of toxic waste into the Animus river, causing, perhaps, one of the greatest environmental disasters in modern history.
EPA crews were given the go-ahead to return to their cleanup duties at the Standard Mine just above Crested Butte, Colorado early last week, however, despite Congress’s ongoing investigation. Almost immediately upon re-engaging their equipment, crews made an identical mistake to the one made at Gold King, again unleashing toxic waste water into second town’s system.
An Environmental Protection Agency crew working at the Standard Mine above Crested Butte triggered a wastewater spill into a creek that flows into the town water supply — a small-scale repeat of the Gold King incident this year.
Only an estimated 2,000 gallons spilled Tuesday, amid efforts to open a collapsed portal. The impact on town water is expected to be minimal.
Although the EPA insists that this spill was much smaller than the Gold King mine spill, the long-term effects of which are still unknown, the fact remains that the EPA seems unable to handle even a small-scale cleanup effort. Congressional investigators pounced immediately, taking the EPA to task for its clearly flawed cleanup procedures.
“They told us things were going to be different. Now we have a spill. … We’ve apparently got a real challenge with the EPA, not only with notification but their accountability and their ability to adequately execute these types of cleanup projects,” [Rep. Scott] Tipton said. “They’ve got resources. They’re the ones in charge of the program. And they’ve had two spills in my district alone. Is there a better way to approach this?”
The city of Crested Butte will have their own cleanup effort to begin, as the Standard Mine, which had been designated an environmental disaster for some time before the EPA became involved, expelled toxic waste water containing cancer-causing cadmium, arsenic, and zinc directly into Crested Butte’s drinking water. Ironically, the entire purpose of EPA involvement was to place a plug in the mine to halt any potential flow of cadmium, arsenic and zinc into Crested Butte’s water systems.
This is almost comical, were it not for the long-term environmental damage created by the very agency charged with ensuring compliance with environmental laws and regulations. The worst part? The EPA tried to avoid reporting the spill to its home office, possibly in order to avoid the very attention their efforts are getting, and possibly to avoid the necessary connections being drawn between this incident and Gold King.
But despite this spill being clearly smaller, it will still have a significant impact on those who rely on local water sources for safe, clean water for themselves, for their livestock and for their crops. As Congressman Tipton alludes to, corporations face zero tolerance from the EPA for even small environmental incursions – we can probably safely guess the EPA will not punish themselves, however, for their egregious actions here.