428A Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 10:00am EST
Vitter Summary Statement on Gold King Mine Toxic Spill Impacts on Small Businesses
The purpose of today’s hearing is to consider the economic impacts to small businesses and the surrounding communities in southwestern Colorado that resulted from the August 5, 2015 wastewater spill at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. The spill, which was a direct result of negligence committed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its contractor that were conducting an investigation at the site, released over 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage into Cement Creek, which flowed into the Animas River. The resulting toxic plume traveled over 100 miles and culminated at Lake Powell in Utah. While EPA claims that water quality of the river has reverted to pre-spill levels, that claim obscures the impacts to the community in the wake of the spill and entirely ignores that the long-term impacts of the spill are unknown and will be for quite some time.
We must be clear about what happened at Gold King Mine: this spill was caused by the EPA and its contractor. In other words, the agency that is charged with protecting the environment and public health caused a spill that posed substantial threats to both, and the EPA should be held accountable for it, the same way that any company is held responsible for similar behaviors.
We must also consider other failures by the EPA that occurred in the wake of the spill. As prior testimony has revealed, EPA failed to notify impacted communities and local governments on a timely basis and EPA did not take control of the situation for five days. Yet despite these and many other failures, EPA has fired no one and not taken any real responsibility for its actions.
While EPA’s role in causing the spill and its failures thereafter cannot be ignored, the purpose of this hearing is to assess how the spill impacted the surrounding communities and businesses in and around Silverton, southwestern Colorado and beyond. The testimony today from our witnesses will provide additional insight on the impacts to local economies and small businesses located near – and dependent on – the Animas River for tourism and other economic activities.
The role of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment. Over the last seven years, that function has been obscured by EPA’s new top priority, which is to implement regulations that will have punishing economic impacts on the economy and the American people. The Animas River spill went a step further with EPA directly causing a major environmental incident that directly harmed the environment and surrounding communities and economies. It is Congress’ role to get to the bottom of it, ensure that EPA is held fully accountable and that a similar incident never happens again.