BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – House Republicans want the Inspector General of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to look into potential agency interference with an investigation into a 3-million-gallon wastewater spill from a Colorado mine.
The Republicans said agency interviews with personnel involved in the spill may have tainted the Inspector General’s pending probe of the Aug. 5 accident.
The lawmakers’ concerns were detailed in a Friday letter signed by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas.
The accident was triggered by EPA cleanup workers who failed to test the water pressure inside the inactive Gold King Mine before conducting excavation work at the site. It sent a torrent of toxic heavy metals into rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
The interviews that were called into question by Bishop and Gohmert occurred in early December, more than four months after the Inspector General announced it was looking into the cause of the spill and the EPA’s response.
The Republicans also accused the EPA of offering shifting explanations of the events leading up to the spill.
PHOTO GALLERY: Gold King Mine Tour
They pointed to recent claims by the agency that the excavation work that triggered the spill was only preliminary, with more extensive cleanup work scheduled to begin after Aug. 14. The notion that the excavation work was preliminary was included in neither the EPA’s initial review of the accident nor in a separate evaluation of the spill conducted by the Department of Interior.
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency’s Dec. 8 additions to its initial review were “to clarify any points that were not fully examined” in the agency’s original report and the subsequent Interior evaluation.
But Bishop and Gohmert said it was “nonsensical” that the EPA would begin work at the site and then leave it for nine days before taking further steps.
EPA Inspector General’s Office spokesman Jeff Lagda said the Republicans’ letter was being reviewed.
“The investigators are still doing their preliminary research,” Lagda said. “We certainly can expand the scope of our review based on what we found.”
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