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No criminal charges in Gold King Mine blowout

House committee, subcommittee heads demand explanation

No criminal charges will be pursued related to the Gold King Mine blowout, for which the

After a yearlong investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, having been presented the facts of the incident by the Office of Inspector General, decided on Oct. 6 to not prosecute “the EPA employee.”

The release did not name the employee.

The EPA’s temporary on-scene coordinator, Hays Griswold, was in charge Aug. 5, 2015, when a contract crew released an estimated 3 million gallons of mine waste tainted with heavy metals into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Immediately after the announcement was sent, the Office of Inspector General’s spokesman Jeffrey Lagda posted that the would be out of the office until 2:30 p.m. Thursday. He later said in an email that he “cannot comment on the investigation at this stage.”

The announcement said in lieu of criminal prosecution, “the OIG will prepare a Report of Investigation (ROI) for submission to EPA’s senior management for review. The EPA is required to report to the OIG any administrative action taken as a result of the ROI.”

After the announcement, U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and House Oversight and Government Reform Interior Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, demanded the Department of Justice explain its decision to not pursue criminal charges.

In a Wednesday statement, several congressional members said the Office of Inspector General had found evidence of criminal wrongdoing, including providing false statements and violating the Clean Water Act.

“By not taking up the case, the Department of Justice looks like it is going easy on its colleagues in EPA,” the statement said. “Its lack of action on these charges gives the appearance of hypocrisy, and seems to indicate that there is one set of rules for private citizens and another for the federal government. The EPA disaster deserves the same level of accountability to which private citizens are held.”

The committees asked for a briefing on the decision no later than Oct. 26.

Multiple local representatives did not respond to requests for comment late Wednesday.

Republican Congressman Scott Tipton wrote in an emailed response, “This disaster and the EPA’s response or lack of response is bigger than any one employee and was the result of numerous failures at multiple levels at the EPA.

“I will continue to work to make sure responsible parties are held accountable and affected communities are compensated and made whole,” he wrote.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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