Is Animas River spill leaching into presidential race?

EPA officials say the immediate danger from the spill has diminished as the polluted waters have dissipated. GOP candidates say the EPA was hapless and arrogant.

Jon Austria/The Daily Times/AP
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks during a news conference in Durango, Colo., on Wednesday. McCarthy, on a visit Wednesday to Durango, downstream of the toxic waste spill site, said she had ordered agency personnel across the country to cease field investigation work on abandoned mines while the spill was investigated.

The massive spill of toxic waste water from the Gold King Mine in southern Colorado is leaching into the 2016 presidential race.

On Wednesday, two Republican presidential hopefuls – Marco Rubio and Donald Trump – said the spill shows the Environmental Protection Agency is incompetent. The mishap occurred when an EPA-led cleanup crew accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of water containing such pollutants as arsenic, lead, and iron.

The wastewater flowed into the Animas River in Colorado, turning it orange, and then into the San Juan River in New Mexico.

Farmers and native American tribes now won’t be able to use the river water, said Senator Rubio (R) of Florida, in an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. He said the accident showed the agency was both hapless and arrogant.

“It’s not just the crisis they’ve created, it’s their response to it that belies arrogance and this notion that ‘yeah, we’re sorry it happened, but we don’t need to give you any more information, because we’re the EPA and you can’t do anything to us,' ” said Rubio.

Later on the same show, Mr. Trump said that the spill would probably “kill everything” in the affected waters, and that he would likely fire an EPA administrator under such circumstances.

“This is all the more example why EPA, we should do it locally. We shouldn’t be doing it from Washington,” Trump said.

EPA officials say the immediate danger from the spill has diminished as the polluted waters have dissipated. Measurements show acidity and heavy metal levels near the source of the spill have returned to pre-spill levels.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy traveled to the region on Thursday to investigate the spill aftermath. She said she was “heartbroken” by the spill and said that cleanup field work at other mines would stop while the agency studies last week’s disaster.

Ms. McCarthy said a “sister federal agency” or some other “external entity” would lead this probe.

It’s unlikely the agency’s effort will head off other investigations, however. House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio has said Congress will conduct its own look, or looks, at the incident.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will conduct a hearing on the leak in September, for one. It’s going to ask whether precautions were taken when the EPA-led team arrived on-site, and whether the personnel involved were well-trained.

“These are foundational questions that EPA will need to address so we can ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, who chairs the panel.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has also demanded an inspector general investigation into the incident.

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