Published May 3, 2016
WASHINGTON — Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and SCIA member Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch today requesting a Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) responsibility for the Gold King Mine disaster on Navajo Nation.
In the letter, Barrasso and McCain point to clear evidence that the EPA was responsible for the disaster, including from the Department of Interior’s own Technical Evaluation, which notes the EPA failed to conduct necessary water pressure tests before excavating a tunnel at the mine.
Based on the facts confirming EPA’s direct responsibility for the spill and the widespread damage it has caused to the environment and people of the surrounding communities, Barrasso and McCain urge Attorney General Lynch to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether any EPA manager, employee or contractor may have committed a crime in connection with the spill.
“[W]e believe that sufficient information exists to warrant an investigation by the Justice Department of whether EPA employees or contractors may have committed crimes in connection with the spill, including but not limited to criminal violations of federal environmental laws, criminal negligence and obstruction,” write Barrasso and McCain.
“[W]e ask that you review the circumstances surrounding the Gold King Mine spill to determine specifically whether evidence warrants the prosecution of any EPA manager, employee or contractor for the criminal violation of federal environmental law, criminal negligence, obstruction or any other crime… DOJ’s involvement is necessary to affirm that the government is willing to hold itself to the same level of accountability as it holds private companies whose negligence results in serious environmental damage.”
Senator McCain first called for the investigation at a field oversight hearing on “EPA’s Unacceptable Response to Indian Tribes” in Phoenix, Arizona. Chairman Barrasso agreed to hold the hearing at the request of Senator McCain.
Both senators have continued to raise concerns about the EPA’s role in and failure to effectively respond to the spill, which has devastated lands and livelihoods across Navajo Nation.
The letter is below and available here.
May 3, 2016
The Honorable Loretta Lynch
U.S. Department of Justice
Robert F. Kennedy Building
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Attorney General Lynch:
On Friday, April 22, 2016, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a field hearing in Phoenix, Arizona, on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) unacceptable response to addressing the concerns of Native American tribes, among others, to a recent, massive spill at the Gold King Mine, north of Silverton, Colorado. From this hearing and our review of the record evidence adduced to date, we believe that sufficient information exists to warrant an investigation by the Justice Department of whether EPA employees or contractors may have committed crimes in connection with the spill, including but not limited to criminal violations of federal environmental laws, criminal negligence and obstruction, e.g., 18 U.S.C. 1505 (obstruction of pending administrative and congressional proceedings), 18 U.S.C. 1516 (obstruction of federal audit), and/or 18 U.S.C. 1001 (false statements).