EPA Watchdog Begins Investigation into Colorado Wastewater Spill

Hydrologic Technician Ryan Parker gathers water samples from the San Juan River

Hydrologic Technician Ryan Parker gathers water samples from the San Juan River / AP

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The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday that it is beginning an investigation into the agency’s role in triggering a massive toxic waste spill in southwest Colorado.

The IG alerted a number of senior EPA officials to the investigation in a memo released on Monday. "We will request documents, and interview relevant managers and staff in these locations and elsewhere as necessary," the IG said.

The announcement comes amid controversy over EPA’s role in the spill. Agency chief Gina McCarthy admitted last week that EPA inspectors had triggered the incident while inspecting cleanup efforts at the Gold King Mine near Durango, Colo.

Roughly 3 million gallons of wastewater have spilled into the Animas and San Juan Rivers, according to the IG. The water contains "heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury," the memo said.

The IG asked senior agency personnel to ensure that their subordinates cooperate with the investigation.

"We will request your resolution if an agency employee or contractor refuses to provide requested records to the OIG, or otherwise fails to cooperate with the OIG. We may report unresolved access matters to the Administrator and include the incident in the Semiannual Report to Congress," the memo said.

The IG said the investigation was initiated at the request of a member of Congress. As it probes the incident, EPA is could also be facing congressional investigations.

Western lawmakers have sternly criticized the agency for its part in the disaster and called for oversight hearings to probe EPA’s conduct. Some have used the incident to question EPA efforts to expand its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act.

Lachlan Markay   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Lachlan Markay is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He comes to the Beacon from the Heritage Foundation, where he was the conservative think tank's first investigative reporter. He graduated from Hamilton College in 2009, and currently lives in Washington, D.C. His Twitter handle is @lachlan. His email address is markay@freebeacon.com.