Skip to main content

tv   Sally Jewell and Gina Mc Carthy Testimony on Gold King Mine Wastewater Spill  CSPAN  September 17, 2015 10:00am-11:01am EDT

10:00 am
indian children in the 19th century. there's a number of features named -- >> we will leave the remainder of this hearing to go live to capitol hill as a pair of house committees look at the animas river spill in colorado on august 5. the work of the epa and the contractor regained at gold king mine and the effects that had on the navajo nation on local communities. on your screen is guy na mccarthy. she will testify along with tribal officials who were affected by the areas where the spill occurred. just about to get under way live t
10:01 am
10:02 am
10:03 am
10:04 am
10:05 am
10:06 am
10:07 am
once again, live for a hearing on last month's waste water spill at the gold king mine in colorado. a couple of house committees this morning will hear testimony on capitol hill from epa administrator gina mccarthy and a number of tribal officials from the navajo nation, just one area affected by that spill. the spill contaminated rivers in kol co colorado, new mexico and utah and in the navajo nation. yesterday, gina mccarthy testified before a senate committee and she defended the epa's response to the spill and their cleanup efforts. the epa has suspended cleanup work and site investigations at ten polluted mining complexes in four states because of conditions that are similar to those that led to the spill in colorado. the four sites are in colorado, three in california. a couple in montana and one in missouri.
10:08 am
this hearing should get under way in just a moment. this is live coverage on c-span3. committee on oversight and government reform and the committee on nagtural resources have come to order. the judge is authorized to declare a recess at any time. pleased to have both committees here. pleased to recognize the chairman of the committee on
10:09 am
natural resources, my colleague from utah, mr. bishop, for five minutes in his opening statement. >> you started the clock and i couldn't find the button to turn this on. thank you, mr. chaffetz. it's nice to be here with you. over a year ago, epa began remediation on the gold king mine in colorado that led to 3 million gallons of orange crap that went down the animas and san juan rivers from colorado into new mexico, utah and perhaps into arizona. epa documents show the agency was aware as early as june 2014 that a massive blowout was possible. however, epa decided not to test the pressure in the mines. instead, they simply dug around it with heavy machinery. if an individual or private company had done this, epa would have made sure there was hell to pay. epa's aggressive enforcement tactics have resulted in criminal charges for mistakes or
10:10 am
accidents. in alaska, an armed agented accidented on speculation that individuals may have violated the clean water act. wyoming, epa is threatening a rancher with $75,000 a day in fines because he built a stock pond on his land. one dismissed epa director spoke of crucifying someone to make an example. i have a constituent who had jail time because he tried to work with the epa and when he asked for advice, we don't advise, we regulate. evidence from states across the nation dell straight epa is more concerned with the enforcing of a heavy handed regulation than actually protecting our resources. now, epa has violated not only this issue, but also violated environmental laws like the clean water act and the endangered species act. making sure epa is held april countable is the cause and primary reason for today's hearing. another is to hear from those affected by epa's action.
10:11 am
we want to find out what happened, how to solve it, make sure it does not happen again. we want to find out why epa was so slow in notifying downstream users of what was happening to them. epa basically sat back and let others do the work of information. when those authorities asked epa for information about the spill or access to the results of the water quality or sediment sampling plans, epa delayed. wasn't to know that new mexico, utah and colorado were quick and competent in their efforts. i'm proud of the tribes in the area. epa workers who work on the ground i thought did a great job. but even they were kept in the dark by epa washington. epa is not alone in this shameful behavior. interior department was nearly invisible in the wake of the spill. despite the fact that every one of their agencies have some jurisdiction. they released over a billion
10:12 am
gallons of water to dilute the spill. i would like to know who did that, why and understanding the problems that resulted from that release of water. the agencies who were there like fish and wildlife, blm, they have responsibility but they were awol and they should be held accountable as well. i am disappointed that department of interior is not here to testify on how they would go about the separate investigation. we need to know what the scope of that investigation is and waiting 60 days while they make their decisions is a wrong approach. we need to know ahead of time if the wrong questions are being asked in the first place. that's why i wish department of interior was actually here to testify on how they are going to go about their review of what's going on. finally, i have one other complaint. i understand that administrator mccarthy agreed to come if she appeared first and on her own panel. that's something we would not do in my committee. you are lucky that this is a joint committee. refusing to sit alongside
10:13 am
representatives of the states and tribes who travel across this country to discuss this disaster is unheard of and is wrong. it is arrogance and it goes through the agency and it should not take place. the administration does not deserve special treatment. they should be on the same panel with the same other people. i'm sorry, i find this request shameful and the first thing you should do is aplgize to the navajo vanation for refusing to sit at the same table and take the same questions with them. the epa and department of interior will be held accountable today and in the future as the recovery efforts continue. i look forward to this hearing to find out specifics of what happened and how we solve this in the future so that we don't replicate this again and before we move forward on any other kind of reclamation in this effort, we have to make sure that we do not recreate the mistakes that have been done in the past. accountability is important. i look forward to hearing the testimony of all the witnesses that are here and i yield back.
10:14 am
>> now recognize the ranking member of the committee on natural resources for his opening statement. >> thank you. also thank you to chairman bishop for holding this hearing. i would like to believe that republicans are holding so many hearings on this particular incident because they genuinely care about water quality, wildlife and public health of affected communities. i would like to believe that this has opened your eyes to the problem of abandoned mines throughout the west, acid mine drainage and the difficult task of cleaning this up. unfortunately, as much as i would like to believe we all know this is not the case. the majority's overwhelming issue comes from the fact that it was a environmental protection agency that was holding the shovel when the spill occurred. and the majority cannot pass up a chance to attack epa. for them, this is a gold mine. it is being mined like a
10:15 am
political gold mine and the gold rush is on. i'm not here to defend epa on this issue at all. they made a mistake. particularly when it came to notifying the navajo nations and others in new mexico about the spill and the consequences and the mitigation that was going to be needed. this spill imposed real cost on people downstream. legitimate claims from people affected by the spill deserve to be dealt with quickly and i hope they will be made whole quickly. but it is important to put this in perspective, which is sorely lacking around here. first, the epa and the state of colorado were there to clean up someone else's mess. epa and the state of colorado did not hollow out the inside of the mountains in the search for gold. they did not simply pick up and leave when things weren't profitable anymore. those were the owners and operators of the gold king mine. but colorado and the epa were
10:16 am
there this summer as they have been for years working closely with local stakeholders trying to figure out a way to clean the mess up. second, this was not a pristine mountain stream. the four mines on the cement creek have been leaking $330 million gallons of acid mine drainage each year. the epa spill released 3 million gallons. that effectively means that there's an equivalent size spill every three days on the river. let me put it another way. this is a juice box that we're used to. at least my grandkids use all the time. represents the a. waste water that was spilled on august 5th. because of ema. this water jug represents the amount that goes into the river each year. third, it is important to point out that epa was not there by itself. in addition to the longtime
10:17 am
support of the local community, which has fought pollution from the mines for well over a century, the epa was there in partnership with the state of colorado, a partnership that has existed for decades. it was the epa and the colorado department of public health and environment that investigated the site back in the 1990s. it was epa and the colorado division of reclamation mining and safety that were working to stop the drainage from these mines and both of these agencies concluded there wouldn't be a blow o blowout on the gold king mine. we need perspective on the issue. the problem here is a horribly outdated mining law that dates back to the time of the telegraph and horse and buggy. we now have phones we carry in our pockets. our mining law remains stuck in 1872. because of that law, we have over half a million abandoned mines in this nation. tens of thousands of miles of
10:18 am
rivers contaminated with acid mine waste. and not nearly enough money to clean this all up. it's time to update this outdated relic. earlier this year i introduced a hard rock mining reform and reclamation act. it gives us a modern mining law with strong environmental and public health protection. it raises the money to help clean up abandoned hard rock mines from coast to coast. sadly, no republicans have agreed to co-sponsor this bill yet. whether it is uranium, proposals to mine close to the grand canyon, whether it is gold in new mexico, copper in arizona, the fact remains that as these companies leave, they leave behind to the miners that worked hard on those tough jobs, to the affected communities, they are left to pick up and have to deal with all the consequences of contamination that are left behind.
10:19 am
hard rock mining, because of the law, pays no royalties at all. and it is time that the majority, if they care what's happening to the communities and the rivers in the west, i invite them to join me in trying to reform a 19th century mining law. with that, thank you and i yield back. >> thank you. i recognize myself for five minutes. in colorado last month, there was a massive environmental disaster. 3 million gallons of polluted mine waste water spilled into the animas river in a matter of hours. it was the worst ecological catastrophe in the region in recent memory. it released a plume into the river system stretching 80 miles long. we have a video that i would like to show of what happened. >> get out of here.
10:20 am
>> when they fix that, we will come back to it. it's not the right video. what caused the accident? what caused the accident? the environmental protection agency. my colleagues and i often disas degree on the merits of epa's action. i'm certain everyone can agree that epa should not be making the environment worse. we are here to examine how this disaster happened. we're here to skchlen how it was managed. most importantly, here to make sure it never happens again. epa must be held fully accountable for the accident. last year a private company in west virginia accidentally released roughly 7,500 gallons of chemicals into the river. this spill was 3 million gallons. the epa immediately began a criminal investigation. the epa built a case against the company that resulted in a criminal indictment for six employees. the company was forced to
10:21 am
declare bankruptcy. in 1999, a private committee in alaska spilled 1,500 gallons of oil into a nearby river. the project manager of the site was sentenced to prison -- prison for six months. yet, i have heard the epa administrator saying, we hold our people to an even higher standard. i'm not aware of anybody who has been dismissed, held accountable, let alone given criminal charges along the way. in the aftermath of the deep o horizon oil spill, the president demanded those responsible be held accountable. when asked if he would fire the ceo of the company, the president said, he wouldn't be working for me. has anything happened to any of the epa employees who are responsible for this? not a thing. the epa should not get special treatment or avoid the consequences they instituted on others. one of the most offensive things that i heard as i visited with
10:22 am
the president of the navajo nation who was affected by this is that days -- days after this, we had epa employees walking the banks of the river, not there to do a cleanup, not there to help with the cows and cattle and other things, but they were out there handing out waiver forms, trying to get a waiver form signed to limit the liability days after this happened. many of these people don't speak english. yet, you had employees of the federal government working for you out there trying to limit their liability. that is so fundamentally totally wrong and offensive that t. did they call the navajo nation? no it was 48 hours before you bothered to make contact with the navajo nation. when you offered support, two people came down -- two to go sit in the control center. basically to spy and to see what was going on there. they weren't do there working
10:23 am
hard to get this thing cleaned up. we're going to hear from the president of the navajo nation. he is the one that told bus this and what's going on. you can shake your head no. but that's exactly what happened. it's highly offensive. hand out waiver forms. try to limit the liability instead of taking care of what you knew was happening more than a year in advance. more than a year in advance. that's what's so deeply concerning here. one other point that i would like to make as we go along in this, in june of 2014, the epa contracted with the environmental restoration, a company, to work the gold king mine. in the contract, again, a year in advance -- more than a year, the contract said, conditions may exist that could in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine which contain concentrated heavy
10:24 am
metals. they knew this was a possibility. they knew that this was going to happen. more than a year in advance and yet obviously they did not take the necessary precautions to make sure that this did not happen. we want to have some answers to that and a host of other questions. we do appreciate you being here today. i look forward to a lively discussion. i would like to recognize mr. cartwright, the gentleman from pennsylvania for his comments and opening statement. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you, administrator mccarthy for appearing before us. i understand this is your third time testifying this week about this specific topic. i understand this is the fourth hearing overall on the question of the gold king mine release. it is certainly appropriate for congress to examine this spill. how it happened, whether it could have been prevented, how it was handled and what can be done to prevent similar types of
10:25 am
spills into the future. before we begin, i want to make one very important point. while the gold king mine spill was damaging, as has been pointed out, this spill pales in comparison to a series of even bigger toxic spills from many other mines that have been adan b abandoned for decades and the seepage from mines across our nation for more than 100 years. the animas river has been plagued by pollution caused by abandoned mines like the gold king mine. in 1975 a dam broke on a pond holding mine waste sending 50,000 tons of sludge into the animas river, turning it that the time the color of aluminum paint. three years later, 500 million gallons of water and sludge from the sunnyside mine turned the animas river black all the way to new mexico. last week, the mayor of durango,
10:26 am
colorado, testified that the august 5th release of 3 million gallons was equivalent to roughly a week's worth of normal discharge from this mine. he said, this was a level of only 2% of the annual discharge from the mine. he testified, the heavy metal contamination that emanates from hundreds of separate mine sites in the mountains upstream of durango has been impacting our community since the late 19th century. it is a constant if often invisible threat to our community's public health and economic well-being and has resisted thoughtful and well intended efforts to mitigate this risk. in pennsylvania, my own district, faces this same threat of continual mine discharges. you know, we used to mine coal
10:27 am
in northeastern pennsylvania, hard coal. in fact there are 575 abandoned mine lands in my district creating 382 miles of acid mine drainage affected streams. the fact is that mining companies have not been held responsible for the toxic devastation that left behind. but epa and states are being forced to clean up this legacy of leakage with resources that are completely inadequate. using data obtained from the states, the environmental advocacy group earth works estimated there are more than 500,000 abandoned hard rock mines throughout the country. to clean up 147 of the sites, it would cost the federal government between $7 billion and $24 billion according to a 2004 estimate. in fiscal year 2015, the budget for cleaning up hard rock mine sites totaled only $40 million. congress has to provide more
10:28 am
resources to address this problem. congress must address the broader problem of cleaning up the mine sites. that's why i'm pleased to be an original co-sponsor of the bill, the hard rock mining reform and reclamation act of 2015, to help remedy the problem. finally, as i said, i think it is completely appropriate to conduct oversight of epa's actions in this case. so the hearing is appropriate. epa has taken responsibility for this accident. experts, including experts at the department of interior and epa's inspector general are currently assessing what could be done differently to avoid this type of spill in the future and to speed the notification of all parties involved. let us take this opportunity now to focus on the larger issue of the devastating legacy of pollution that mining companies
10:29 am
have left behind all across our nation. let me close by extending our welcome to the other witnesses today from the navajo nation, the southern ute tribal nation. i look forward to your testimony not only about this spill but about what steps congress can take to address the much broader problems we are facing with water quality throughout the country. i thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank the gentleman. we will try to show this video again. i think it's less than a minute. it shows the start of the spill and what happened. >> dim the lights. >> you want popcorn, too? >> really high.
10:30 am
>> this is all the water from the mine. i cannot believe it. >> thank you. some 3 million gallons. we're going to hold the record open for five legislative days for any members who would like to submit a written statement. the chair would like to note the presence of some of our colleagues. congressman steve pierce of new mexico, congressman scott tipton of colorado as well as ben ray nuhaun of new mexico. we look forward to your insight. i would ask consent that piece,
10:31 am
nuhaun and tipton be allowed to participate. >> are you sure you want them to be here? can we discuss that at all? >> we have great flexibility here that we're exercising venlth the pope is coming next week. we're trying to be as nice as possible. >> i won't say anything then. >> without objections, so ordered. we now recognize the distinguished witness on our first panel. pleased to welcome gina mccarthy, the administrator of the united states environmental protection agent. pursuant to rules, all witnesses are to be sworn before they testify. if you would please rise and raise your right hand. do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? >> yes, i do. >> thank you. let the record reflect the witness answered in the affirmative. your entire written statement will be made part of the record. we would appreciate your verbal
10:32 am
comments. we now recognize you for those at this time. >> good morning, chairman -- >> if you could move the microphone -- apologies. i want to make sure the audio is sufficient. as close as you can. thank you. >> all right. better? >> much better. thank u. >> good morning. i am gina mccarthy, administrator of the united states environmental protection agency. i want to thank you for the opportunity to appeal today to discuss the august 5 gold king mine release and subsequent epa response. this was a tragic and unfortunate incident. the ep as hak tan responsibility to ensure that it is cleaned up appropriately. the mission is to ensure a clean environment and protect public health. we're dedicated to continuing to do our job to protect the environment and to hold ourselves to the same high standard we demand of others. the epa was at the gold king mine on august 5, conducting an
10:33 am
investigation to assess mine conditions and ongoing water discharges, dewater the mine pool and assess the feasibility of further mine remediation. while excavating above and mine opening, the lower portion of the bedrock crumbled and approximately 3 million gallons of pressurized water discharged from the mine into cement creek which is atributary to the animas river. epa and colorado officials informed downstream jurisdictions in colorado within hours of the release before the plume reacheds drinking water intakes and irrigation diversions and notifications to other jurisdictions continued the following day allowing for those intabs to be closed prior to the plume's arrival. in the aftermath of the release, we initiated an internal review of the incident and released a review summary report on august 26 which includes an assessment of the events and factors
10:34 am
contributing to the ins dents. the report provides observations, conclusions and recommendations that the region should consider applying when conducting ongoing and planned site assessments, investigations and construction or removal projects at similar types of sites across the country. the epa will implement all the recommendations from the report and has shared its findings with external reviewers. in addition to the internal review, the u.s. department of the interior is leading an independent assessment of the factors that led to the gold king mine incident. the goal of doi's review is to provide the epa with an analysis of the incident that took place at the gold king mine including the contributing causes. both internal and external reviews will help inform the epa for ongoing and planned site assessments, investigations and construction and removal projects. one of our foremost priorities is to keep the public informed about the impacts from the gold king mine release and our
10:35 am
response activities. the epa has closely coordinated with our federal partners and with officials in colorado, new mexico, utah, the tribes and navajo nation to keep them apprised of water and sediment sampling results which are routinely posted on our website. these results do indicate that the water and sediment have returned to pre-event conditions and they supported local and state decision makers as they made decisions about lifting water restrictions along the animas and the san juan rivers on august 14th and 15th. finally, wasn't to clarify that the epa was working with the state of colorado to take action at the gold king mine to address both the potential for a catastrophic release and the ongoing adverse water quality impacts caused by the significant mine discharges into the upper animas watershed. based upon 2009 to 2014 flow
10:36 am
data, approximately 330 million gallons of contaminated water was being discharged from mines in the watershed each year to cement creek and the animas river. that's 100 times more than than the estimated release from the gold king mine on august 5th. the epa was and continues to work with the state of colorado and the animas river stake holder group to address the discharges from mines in the upper animas watershed that are impacking the waterways. i think it's important to note that across the country, our super fund program has successfully cleaned up more than 1,150 hazardous waste sites and responded to or provided oversight for thousands of removal actions to protect human health and the environment. that reflects our longstanding commitment to protect human health and the environment that we will continue to pursue and continue to support the administration's request for
10:37 am
abandoned mines lands free to cover the cost of cleanup. all of the affected residents of colorado and new mexico and members of the navajo nation tribe can be assured epa and will continue to take responsibility to help ensure that the gold king mine release is cleaned up. thank you mr. chairman. that concludes my statement. will be happy to answer any questions the committee might have. >> thank you. i now recognize the gentleman from utah, the chairman of the natural row souresources commit. bishop, for his questions. >> thank you, ms. mccarthy for being here. as usual, i'm still disappointed that you are alone on that panel. but thank you for being here. are you aware that the federal agencies are required under the endangered species act to review any discretionary action they plan to undertake to see if it may affect endangered species
10:38 am
and they must consult with fish and wildlife service in. >> i am aware. >> did epa consult with fish and wildlife on its activity prior to the august 5 disaster? >> epa had no reason to consult with them because we did not plan to take action that would have discharged that amount of material into the creek. >> so you assert that you did not anticipate the release, at least that's the e-mail -- i'm glad you weren't talking before. i'm glad we forced you to have communication last night before you send this through. but your assertion is you did not anticipate the release that would affect downstream endangered species. you didn't consult with fish and wildlife. >> we were there because of the threat of the release. >> you assert you didn't anticipate. is that what you and your staff are saying? >> we were there to prevent that release. that's exactly right. >> i'm sorry. i didn't hear what you said. >> we were there to actually prevent a release.
10:39 am
because that is the reason why we were working with the state of colorado and others at the site was to try to de-pressu de-pressurize. >> did you not talk to fish -- >> only if we are taking action. >> listen to this. in the final health and safety plan, emergency and rapid response services for the gold king site prepared by the environmental restoration act, contractor, for epa region 8 and dated september 4, it contains a section entitled spills, leaks or releases. it states, locate the source, stop the flow if it can be done safely. the task order statement of work for epa region 8 prepared by the environmental restoration, this is dated july 25, 2014, conditions may exist that could result in a blowout of the blockages and cause a release of the large volume of contaminated mine water and sediment from inside the mine which contains
10:40 am
concentrated heavy metals. clearly, these documents demonstrate in fact you did not only anticipate the possibility of a release but also of a major blowout. and yet, epa conducted no consultations with fish and wildlife as is required under the endangered species act. are you aware that these activities are both criminal and sieve ill penalties for knowingly violating the endangered species act? >> sir, i'm really not trying to argue with you. i'm trying to explain that the statement you are reading indicates that we were worried about those conditions etchisting. we clearly stated it to the contractor. so that there would be no actions taken that would have caused that release. but instead, we were there to prevent that release. >> that is wonderful. ma'am, the fact is -- the fact is you were anticipating this type of thing happening. the law that you insist everyone else obey, the law says you have to contact fish and wildlife and consult with them. the fact is you did not do it.
10:41 am
and had you over a year to accomplish that fact. >> sir, if i was there to take action to release this material, we wouldn't be standing here today. we were taking action in an attempt to prevent that release knowing that it was a considerable risk to leave it as it was. >> that's sweet. i appreciate that. i know you feel teshlg about it. but the bottom line is, your documents say you anticipated a potential major blowout. and the law says, if you anticipate a major blowout, you have to contact fish and wildlife. until last night, you did not contact fish and wildlife. your agency did not do it. that's what the law requires. and there are criminal and civil penalties for violating that law which you violated. i don't really care what your goal was. it may be noble. it doesn't make a difference. you violated the law. standard you make everyone else live by, you violated. you are doing it with impunity. are you aware that the san juan
10:42 am
river starting in new mexico, there's a critical habitat for endangered fish that would be violated -- a violation for an agency to cause adverse modifications of the habitat by spilling millions of gallons of this water and heavy metals? do you realize that area does exist? >> i was not aware until you just said it, sir, no. >> so have you or your agency discussed the failure to consult with fire and wildlife? >> we do not believe that we actually constituted a failure to notify concerning endangered species because the actions we were taking were intended to stop a blowout. clearly, we had -- there was a problem at the site. that's what we're looking at now to identify. >> i appreciate you making your own interpretation of the law. that's not what the law requires. that's not what the law says. you violated the law, period. the communications you said you made -- i'm sorry. i apologize for that. will get another shot at this. yield back.
10:43 am
>> i thank the gentleman. recognize the gentleman from arizona for five minutes. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. administrator, getting back to the subject of the hearing, which is the gold king mine -- >> yes, sir. >> the role epa had and the role epa has at this point. the question is, if epa and the state had not been at the gold king mine at all, what would have eventually happened to the water that was released on august 5th? >> i think as you know, sir, our reason for being there was the degraded water quality, a result of 300-plus million gallons that were going into the creek and the animas river over time. it was anticipated that there was a serious potential for a blowout. we were there working with colorado and the animas river
10:44 am
stakeholder group to address through a work plan an opportunity tory to mitigate that and resolve an issue of significant concern to the communities. >> the effected native nations issue that they have legitimately raised is the issue of notification. >> yes. >> rapid and on-time notification as to what was occurring and the effect that it could have on tribal lands and their people. your response to the lack of rapid and necessary notification to that by the agency. >> the agency did institute its notification procedure the same day, that was able to afek
10:45 am
toughly get to the state of colorado that day and ensure before the plume arrived at any intake for drinking water or for irrigation that there was an ability to mitigate that and make sure that the spill was contained. so that was good. the following day we completed the notifications to the downstream folks. we're talking about a spill on the 8th -- i'm sorry, the 5th and we completed the notifications on the 6th. now, is that rapid? i would argue that we should have done better. i would argue that it would have been much better and more appropriate to reach everybody the same day. are we trying to do better? yes. have we issued a notification to all of our regions to go back, take a look at what our notification process is, how do we improve it, how do we test it frequently to make sure that it's done? and i think we could have done a lot better at this. but the good news is that we were able to beat the plumes all
10:46 am
the way down so that we were able to protect those drink win water supplies in the irrigation channels as best we could. >> madam administrator, the hard rock mining reform and reclamation act has in it a provision that he would create a fund for cleaning up of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned hard rock mine sites in the country. this provision has been endorsed by the administration, by being included in the president's budget. the funds necessary, how does it help with addressing the problem not only that we're deau>aw wih here today but the potential that exists, particularly in the west and across this country? >> i think it would help significantly and certainly we're very supportive of the president's initiative in the fiscal year '16 budget.
10:47 am
we think it's incredibly important to have resources associated with this. we are talking about legacy mines where we will have almost no ability to go after principals involved in this. we know that just in colorado alone, we have 23,000 of those. in the animas, there's 400 mines. that's why we were there, because there was no ability over the past 20, 30, 40 years to really effectively address this. even though the state worked hard at it and epa tried to help as well. this is a significant problem in the west and alaska where we estimate there's at least 161,000 of these mines left. where they continue in many cases to degrade water quality. >> administrator, there's certainly an implication by the majority -- it's not an implication, it's direct statement, that if a private company had done this, epa's
10:48 am
response would have been stronger, much more severe. is epa treating itself differently here than it would have treat aid private company in the same position? that's the question. >> no, sir. we would have required any company that was doing a response action where they were out doing an emergency response action to keep their folks safe. if a spill occurred. and then to clean it downstream, to take responsibility. and then to make sure that over time long-term consequences are addressed and mitigated. that's exactly what epa is doing here. we have taken full responsibility for our actions. >> thank you. yield back. >> i recognize myself for five minutes. if had you you had to give your letter grade on your response, what would you give yourself? >> i'm doing the best i can to look at -- >> you said in your opening statement, the epa has closely
10:49 am
coordinated to keep them apprised of water and sediment sampling results which are routinely posted on our website. i got to tell you, i'm offended by those comments. behind you on the front row is the president of the navajo nation. i want to read things from his testimony. to begin with, the united states environmental protection agency delayed notification of the spill to the navajo nation. the spill occurred on the morning of august 5th. the nation was not informed until august 6th. a full day later. not even by the epa but by new mexico. it took the epa almost two full days to notify us. we view this as a violation of the government to government relationship between the federal government and the navajo nation. how do you answer that? >> sir, i'm working close ly wih the president -- >> you are not. you took two days before you called them. >> let me just answer it. the call from new mexico was the way in which we actually do
10:50 am
these notifications. we work with states. that's not inappropriate. >> to put it in your statement that you are working closely with the navajo nation is misleading. let me -- i got to keep going. the environmental protection agency demonstrated complete lack protection agency demonstrated complete lack of transparency. the media was receiving faster and fuller information from the epa and the navajo nation. the "new york times" reported the spill hours before they were provided with the notice of the spill. media sources confirmed the presence of arsenic on august 7th whereas the environmental protection agency still had not reported the presence of arsenic to the nation by sunday, august 9th. what's your excuse for that? >> sir, i indicated that our notifications could have been better. but the navajo was given -- >> no, you didn't. in your testimony you said you were working closely with them. you didn't say you screwed up on the communication. >> i didn't say that either,
10:51 am
sir. i said we did take a day. i regret that. i wish it had been earlier. but the plume didn't hit the navajo until the 8th. we had time to work with them. we had been working hard to coordinate with ever since. >> your first call is to the media, not the navajo nation. >> i didn't make any calls, sir. >> that's the problem. that's the problem. you didn't make a call. you have a president of the navajo nation, and you personally don't get involved. one of the worst spills we have ever had. >> i did, sir, get involved. >> when did you call the president of the navajo nation? >> i believe i went to the site on the 11th and 12th. >> well, let's go to the site visit. the president of the navajo nation wanted to visit the site. you denied him. you would not take him to that site. we quote, this is from the navajo president. we kwtd a tour from the environmental protection agency but faced immediate resistance.
10:52 am
staff indicated they would only take us to the confluence of cement creek and animas river. did you not -- the epa would not allow them to go to the site. why not? >> as far as my understanding, and i wasn't at the site of the mine, is that it was a dangerous location. we brought them as close as they could. they actually seemed at that point in time very satisfied they were being protected in getting an opportunity to be at the site. >> so you were doing it to protect them? >> many times that is -- you yourself saw the site in the video. there was damage that occurred. we're keeping people safe. but there is no way in which we have kept people from going as close to the site as they could safely get. and the navajo in fact, went there. >> they did not get there. that's the testimony. "we finally convinced them to take us within a half mile at the point of release. we walked the rest of the way. there we saw completely
10:53 am
unblocked mine with an estimated 550 gallon per minute flow of bright opaque orange -- and he goes on and on. you did not do that. you didn't call them. you didn't communicate with them. you told the media before you told them. then you handed out standard form 95, walk along the river and try to get them to sign waiver forms. you only did that after the president said we are going to sue the epa. why did you do that? >> sir, it's my understanding we did not hand out claims forms. we had a long discussion following that concern. >> you are not telling the truth. here is a quote from the president of the navajo nation. it was quick to hand out forms 95 and encouraged them to fill them out to expedite claims and
10:54 am
release for members of the navajo nation. but this was only after i, again from the president, announced that the navajo nation would be suing the epa. >> the -- >> do you deny your people were handing out this form? >> i do deny that you were going around trying to get anybody to sign these forms based on the information i had, that is not correct. did we supply forms for the navajo nation, leadership? absolutely. because it is part of an opportunity for individual claims to be made. it is not a settlement or a release form. but we walked through those issues. and i think there's a much better understanding of the process for claims that the federal government has established. and i'm hoping that we can utilize our ability to work with them to recognize the damage that has been done and to fully account for that damage and to compensate for it. that is part of the process. >> standard form 95 encouraged
10:55 am
the media and everybody to look at it. i certify that the amount covers only injuries and damages and agree to accept in full settlement of this claim. sit a settlement agreement. again, you're totally misleading, totally out of touch, and totally inappropriate in this instance. now i will recognize the gentleman from pennsylvania. >> i would like to give a moment to answer the last statement. >> this is an application for a settlement process that can be added to and amended throughout the only process. the claimant needs to actually sign off. it was an ability to get started. it was not a final document in any way. >> thank you for that, administrator mccarthy. i would like to switch gears and focus on the extent of the
10:56 am
problem of acid mine drainage around the country. it is a problem that my constituents know only too well. there are 65 million gallons of acid mine run justify every day. here we are talking about 3 million gallon spill. 65 millions of acid mine run-off every day flowing into the lackawanna river compared to the 3 million in the animas river spill. in case you don't believe it, i'm going to show you pictures of the lackawanna river on a typical day. this is the old forge bore hole which emits 65 million gallons of acid mine drainage into the susquehanna river, which finds its way down to the chesapeake bay. any spill in our rivers is is important and needs to be addressed. here, however, what my local
10:57 am
paper published after the animas spill received so much congressional and media attention was a cartoon, the political cartoonist from scranton, john coal. it is being called an environmental disaster. and then over on the right side it shows an illustration of the old forge bore hole. 65 million gallons a day of acid mine runoff. it says around here we call it tuesday afternoon. we understand the problem in northeastern pennsylvania. the director of the lackawanna river corridor association bernie mcgirl explained that in northeastern pennsylvania, they all have profound mine drainage issues with thousands of miles of streams that are impacted by
10:58 am
mine drainage, many of which are totally devoid of aquatic life. there are 500,000 abandoned mines. they score our nation, pollute our waterways. my understanding is that in 2008, epa estimated to clean them up would cost $50 billion. now i welcome this new find interest in a bipartisan way. given that enormous sum, how much do mining companies contribute to cleaning up this mess they create? >> well, in the hard rock mining industry, it's very difficult for me to honestly estimate that. but on these legacy sites, the contribution is close to zero. >> how much are hard rock mining companies charged in royalties for what they extract? >> they are not charged any that i'm aware of. >> they are not charged?
10:59 am
>> no, sir. >> what are the sources of funding that you have for mine cleanup? >> well, the federal agencies have some resources. they are not as significant as the challenges that we're facing. for epa, we have an emergency response fund we utilize. that's fort entire country. we have to prioritize that and use our resources wisely. >> what can congress do to help epa clean up the mines? >> we think that the proposal that the president put in which looks to establish a fee on hard rock mining similar to what we do with coal mining industries would be used to address the legacy sites is an appropriate thing to do. it would be on a polluter pays principle and provides significantly additional funds for us to at least begin to address these challenges. >> now, for abandoned coal
11:00 am
mines, they come from coal reclamation fees. >> that's correct. >> coal companies pay toward abandoned mine cleanup. they contribute only a small fraction of what we need to deal with the problem. the aml is set to expire in the coming years. i want to take this moment to urge congress to turn its attention to reauthorizing the a aml so we can continue the important work in reducing the impact of abandoned mines. thank you, mr. chairman. >> ask unanimous consent standard form 95. without objection. so ordered. now recognize the gentleman from texas for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. ms. mccarthy, the epa internal review documents of the spill said there is no documentation of flow for the gold king mine available before july 2005 when


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on