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Congressmen Launch Mine Spill Probe

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The immediate hazard has faded below the Gold King Mine where millions of gallons of wastewater spilled last month, but Congress is probing lingering concerns.

Two Utah congressmen want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to explain how it spilled millions of gallons of polluted mine water last month into rivers the agency was supposed to protect.

Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz heads the House Oversight Committee that has explored the Benghazi attack, and Republican Rob Bishop leads the House Resources Committee. Together they’ve ordered the EPAto explain what happened and why the agency didn’t take steps to prevent the spill.

Bishop wants to know why EPA didn’t kept others – the states, the tribe and the communities – in the loop.

“Mistakes happen,” they Congressman says. “We have to realize that. But I want to know if this is a mistake that had to take place or if it’s a mistake that could have been prevented.” 

Bishop says he’s keeping an open mind for a Sept. 17 hearing. The joint committees have demanded that EPA and its contractor turn over all documentsrelated to the Gold King Mine spill, nearby mine hazards and past plans to make the area a Superfund site. Bishop says he doesn’t think EPA caused the spill deliberately, like two state lawmakers have suggested.

“I’m not trying to hold someone’s head to the chopping block,” he says. “But I want to know we’re aware of what happened and we’re going to mitigate against that and we can make a fairly good estimate of what the damage really will be – the short term as well as the long term.”

The EPA declined a request for comment, but the agency is working on long-term monitoring at 23 sites, including two in southern Utah.

State water-quality officialshave hired a contractor to test San Juan River water weekly.

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.
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