DENVER — A House committee issued a subpoena Wednesday ordering Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to produce a critical peer review and other documents related to the Environmental Protection Agency’s spill at the Gold King Mine.
The House Natural Resources Committee subpoena calls for Ms. Jewell to produce by Feb. 26 a peer review conducted last year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the Interior Department’s technical evaluation of the accident.
A Feb. 11 report on the spill conducted by the committee’s majority staff refers to the peer review, which was mentioned in the Interior Department’s technical review but never released.
“It is important to note that although the USACE peer reviewer agreed that the report properly describes the technical causes of the failure, he had serious reservations with the chronology of events internal to EPA from the day of the telephone call to [Bureau of Reclamation] and up to the day of the mine failure,” says the Interior Department review released Oct. 22.
The committee staff report concludes that “an understanding of the Technical Evaluation’s errors and misleading nature reveals the gravity of the peer reviewer’s comments.”
Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and the panel chairman, has long complained that Interior Department and EPA officials have resisted the panel’s efforts to investigate the Aug. 5 spill. He hinted last week that he would escalate his efforts to obtain previously requested documents.
The committee issued Thursday a 73-page report on the spill that included an email from the EPA’s on-site coordinator saying that he knew there was “a lot of water” behind the mine’s plug.
Even so, the EPA-led crew failed to measure the water pressure before accidentally uncorking the spill, unleashing 3 million gallons of contaminated orange wastewater into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado, which ultimately spread to New Mexico and Utah.
“This report peels back one more layer in what many increasingly view as a pattern of deception on the part of EPA and DOI,” Mr. Bishop said in a Feb. 11 statement. “We will need heavier efforts to squeeze out the full truth. The agencies continue to withhold information requested by the Committee. They need to come clean and produce the missing documents.”
The Interior Department released a statement late Wednesday confirming that the subpoena had been served but denying that the department had been uncooperative.
“We have been responsive to the Committee’s requests on this issue since August by providing Secretarial testimony, Committee staff briefings and thousands of pages of documents,” the statement said. “Interior is willing to continue to work to accommodate the Committee’s oversight interest but given our level of cooperation to date, we believe that a subpoena is premature.”
The subpoena asks specifically for a peer review conducted by Richard Olsen, an Army Corps of Engineers senior geotechnical engineer, as well as internal emails sent by Mr. Olsen and others.
The documents had been previously requested in a Dec. 10 letter by Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican and chairman of the panel’s oversight and investigations subcommittee.
“After almost six months, we are still trying to get to the bottom of the catastrophic spill and find out who to hold accountable,” Mr. Gohmert said in a statement last week after the release of the report. “If these EPA employees were anything other than government officials, they would have already been on their way to prison wearing orange jumpsuits.”
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