Monday, August 10, 2015

Government Negligence Causes Major Damage

The Albuquerque Journal headline reads Wastewater from Colorado mine reaches New Mexico. (See this story, too.) The Associated Press story is about a large — more than a million gallons — toxic waste spill into the Animas River in Colorado. That's automatically a big story here because the Animas River flows into New Mexico's San Juan River. The San Juan is part of the Colorado River watershed, joining the Colorado River while in Utah. Before that, the Animas River passes by Silverton and through Durango, significant tourist attractions in southwest Colorado. It is a major part of the drinking water supply for these towns, and others, as well as rural areas.

The toxic waste in the spill came from a long-closed gold mine. It contains lots of heavy metals. That means the cleanup will be a huge problem, which will probably require digging all the sand & dirt & rocks from the riverbed and taking it all to a toxic waste dump. Those cleanup costs and the government fines will put the company whose negligence caused that spill out of business. Bankrupt.

Oh. Wait. . . . It wasn't a company that was negligent. It was the EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency. The federal government. Or, as an online story headlined it, EPA, Saviors Of The Environment, Spill 1 Million Gallons Of Waste Water Into Animas River, Turns It Bright Orange…. EPA was "using heavy machinery to investigate pollutants at the Gold King Mine on Wednesday morning" when their machinery took out a plug from a waste pond and released the waste. More than a million gallons of it. In fact, the spill is now estimated at over three million gallons and, as of today, is still increasing at something like 550 gallons per minute.

The Gold King Mine has apparently been closed since 1923. Was this the first time EPA was getting around to dealing with this site?

This reminds me of something I learned about in southern California twenty years ago. Before each rocket engine test on Edwards Air Force Base, airmen would have to search all likely flame areas for desert tortoises. Any that were found would have to be collected before the test, and put back in their exact same locations afterward. In all the years rocket engine tests were being done, no tortoise was killed by a test. The only tortoise that died due to human interaction was (in effect) killed by a government inspector. There, as here, it was the goverenment inspectors — our "protectors" — who caused the damage, not those they were supposed to be protecting us from. No, the government inspector wasn't punished. But any one of the airmen, and his agency, would have been.

And so we have this and much greater examples of government negligence showing up. That's why my reaction to the Animas spill is this:

Colorado and New Mexico should heavily fine EPA for this spill and the negligence that led to it. New Mexico should also heavily fine EPA for failing to notify the state about the spill.

More broadly, EPA should be shut down until the spill has been completely cleaned up and the cleanup has been verified by competent state authorities.

New Mexico assessed a big fine against the Department of Energy because of the WIPP accident. The EPA should be next, for this one.

UPDATE: EPA continues to downplay the seriousness of their spill, telling the public there is no health hazard from the waste they spilled while delivering bottled water — all of this while their spill continues at 550 gallons per minute, 33,000 gallons per hour, 792,000 gallons per day. They are behaving in the cavalier ho-hum manner they charge and severely punish in others. Guess the EPA (like other government agencies) believes there's one set of rules for them and another set for everyone else.

The responsible EPA folks, including those well up the management chain from those running the heavy equipment, should face possible jail time. Independent of that, the EPA must be fined, and fined heavily — and not allowed any additional funds to pay the fines with. Again, why should EPA be treated different from anyone else?

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