Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

EPA's Next Headache: Political Fallout From Mine Spill

Ron Reiring
Flickr Creative Commons
The San Juan River is expected to dump mine wastewater into Lake Powell, and EPA has come under fire for its role in causing the spill tha could harm this important water source.

The waters downstream from the Gold King Mine waste spill are clearing up, but new hazards still lie ahead for the agency responsible for the accident.

Utah congressmen Rob Bishopand Jason Chaffetz say they’ll have their congressional committees take a hard look at the Environmental Protection Agency for its role in the 3-million-gallon spill of toxic mine wastewater. And Attorney General Sean Reyes is talking about legal action.

Another Utah Republican with complaints against the EPA is State Senator Margaret Dayton. She’s previously questioned whether the agency is even constitutional and calls it an organization run by unaccountable federal bureaucrats. Now the spill’s armed her with new reason to push for a state takeover of federal lands.

“We would be so much more effective at taking care of our own waters and lands if the federal government would allow us to,” she says, “because we’re here and we’re much more affected; we’re the people downstream; and we’re the people who are going to be affected by this negligence.”

Dayton chairs the State Water Development Commission, which she’s convening next week to look into the Utah impacts of the Animas River spill.

Rob Harris, an attorney with the Western Resource Advocates, agrees that EPA should be held accountable. But he wants the focus to be people, not politics.

“They need to know if their water is safe and they need to know they can be confident that this isn’t going to happen again,” he says. “And those folks shouldn’t be made a political football on national political issues that really have nothing to do with the Animus.”

EPA officials said Friday that rivers downstream of the spill are returning to pre-spill conditions. But Utah’s agriculture agencyis still warning farmers against using San Juan River water until tests are more conclusive.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.