Investigation finds that EPA coordinator knew of dangers at Gold King Mine

February 11, 2016

An investigation conducted by Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee in charge of work at the Gold King Mine was aware the danger that lurked inside the mine.

The investigation into the August 2015 spill that flooded the Animas River with three million gallons of wastewater and an estimated 880,000 pounds of metals found that Hays Griswold, the on-scene coordinator for the EPA, wrote in an October e-mail to other EPA officials that he “personally knew” the mine could be holding back a lot of water and that he believed others working on the site knew as well.

The note appears to contradict statements Griswold made to The Denver Post in the days after the disaster claiming “nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high.”

The e-mail was provided to the press, including The Denver Post, as part of a 73-page investigation by Republican members of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources into the massive Aug. 5 spill at the site in southwestern Colorado.

Griswold also said in the e-mail that he knew there was pressure behind the blocked entrance to the Gold King.

"The fatal flaw in the whole plan," Griswold wrote, was that when workers began removing parts of the dirt and debris blocking the mine they were operating too low.

Griswold told The Post his crew’s main intention the day of the spill was to work on the adjacent Red and Bonita Mine and that they had just gone to investigate the Gold King.

They started to dig away the dirt at the Gold King portal, where, Griswold said, weak rock around the portal had been collapsing. And then the mine blew.

"All that was holding it back was the dirt. The dirt just wasn't going to hold," Griswold said in the days after the spill.

An EPA internal report found the dangerously high levels of water pressure behind the collapsed opening of the Gold King were never checked.

The U.S Department of Interior, in a separate, independent report, said the release could have been avoided if the EPA and its contractors used a drill to check wastewater levels inside the mine before digging with heavy machinery to open its clogged portal.

Republicans have been heavily critical of the EPA and DOI reports, raising questions about potential bias. The natural resources committee review came after its chair, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, called for an investigation into the incident under his authority.

Bishop said the report by his committee confirms his worries about the previous Gold King inquiries.

“This report peels back one more layer in what many increasingly view as a pattern of deception on the part of EPA and DOI,” he said in a statement. “We will need heavier efforts to squeeze out the full truth. The agencies continue to withhold information requested by the committee.”

The EPA and DOI have pushed back against Republican assertions that their probe's were incomplete.


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