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Subpoenas issued for reports on Gold King Mine spill

U.S. House committee suspicious of Interior investigation of EPA
The Gold King Mine’s exposed adit, which is about 10 feet wide and 15 feet high. Contaminated water began flowing from the adit on Aug. 5, 2015.

DENVER – A U.S. House committee has issued subpoenas to federal agencies in an effort to obtain additional information related to the Gold King Mine spill.

The subpoenas were issued late Wednesday to the Interior Department and Army Corps of Engineers, which investigated and reviewed events leading to the Aug. 5, 2015, spill.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has repeatedly expressed a lack of faith in the Interior Department to conduct an independent investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency’s errors.

The EPA acknowledged fault in the incident, which led to the release of an estimated 3 million gallons of orange mining sludge into the Animas River and other waters. The river tested for initial spikes in toxic heavy metals, including lead, copper and arsenic.

“The Department of the Interior has been actively working to withhold information from the committee that members on both sides of the aisle are seeking,” Bishop said in a statement. “It’s time to come clean.”

The subpoenas are a first for the committee under Bishop’s leadership. He was named chairman in November 2014.

The subpoena to the Interior Department specifically calls upon Secretary Sally Jewell to produce documents by 5 p.m. Feb. 26. It includes a long list of requests, largely related to the Interior Department’s technical evaluation of the incident.

The subpoena to the Army Corps of Engineers names Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, requiring the commander to release the full review of the Interior Department’s investigation.

Bishop is concerned that the Interior Department blocked an earlier request by his committee for the Army Corps of Engineers to release its full review.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official who reviewed the Interior’s report expressed “serious reservations,” according to an October 2015 report. But the full scope of those concerns has not been revealed. Reports released so far have included redactions.

Even more questions arose last week after an investigation by the House Committee on Natural Resources revealed that federal officials were aware of the potential for a blowout at Gold King, and may have deceived the public following the catastrophe.

The EPA told The Durango Herald and other news outlets directly after the spill that it planned to clear dirt blocking the tunnel to install a pipe to drain contaminated water.

But an October 2015 internal email from an EPA employee who led efforts at the mine contradicts those statements. Hays Griswold said in the email released last week that “there was never any discussion or decision made by the group or myself independently to actually open the mine adit in any way, shape or form.”

It wasn’t the only contradictory account raised as a result of the investigations. The Colorado Department of Natural Resources disagrees with an assertion by the Bureau of Reclamation – a bureau within the Interior Department – that mining experts from the state backed a plan to reopen the adit.

The Interior Department said Thursday that it has received the subpoena of Jewell, but it raised questions as to the necessity of the legal order.

“We have been responsive to the committee’s requests on this issue since August by providing secretarial testimony, committee staff briefings and thousands of pages of documents,” said Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw. “Interior is willing to continue to work to accommodate the committee’s oversight interest, but given our level of cooperation to date, we believe that a subpoena is premature.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

Army Corps of Eng. subpoena (PDF)

Dept. of Interior subpoena (PDF)

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