Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy apologized Tuesday for a mine spill in Colorado that her agency caused last week and planned to travel to the area Wednesday, amid increasing criticism from lawmakers about the EPA’s response.
Ms. McCarthy said at a news conference in Washington that she was still learning about what happened, responding to a question about whether the EPA was reviewing changes in how it cleans up old mines. “I don’t have a complete understanding of anything that went on in there,” she said. “If there is something that went wrong, we want to make sure it never goes wrong again.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) said in an interview Tuesday he doubted the EPA had an adequate network set up in the region to respond to the disaster. “Something did go wrong, and here we are, a week later, and there still remains a lack of understanding not only with what happened, but what’s actually at stake in terms of public health,” Mr. Gardner said.
An EPA cleanup crew on Aug. 5 accidentally triggered a breach in an abandoned gold mine in the southwestern part of Colorado, releasing an estimated three million gallons of toxic, mustard-tinted sludge through a river system that also spans New Mexico and Utah.
The sludge, which flowed down the Animas River and emptied into the San Juan River in New Mexico, contains such contaminants as lead and arsenic from the Gold King Mine, north of Silverton, Colo., one of thousands of abandoned mines across the western U.S.
“The EPA’s initial response to this point has been slow and insufficient,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) said in an emailed statement. “Once we are through the immediate and emergency responses, we will all need to investigate how this happened, not only so that we can get answers about this disaster, but so that we can prevent it from happening again.”
Top lawmakers from both parties on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee promised to monitor the EPA’s response to the mine breach. “I will work within the committee and with my colleagues in Congress to ensure the EPA is held accountable to this grave incident,” the panel’s chairman, James Inhofe (R., Okla.), said in a statement.
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