Is the EPA doing enough to protect bees?

Bumblebee love!

Bees are dying in huge numbers, and conservation groups are concerned the EPA is not doing enough to protect them. @bberwyn photo.

Beekeepers accuse pesticide industry of trying to ‘hijack’ public policy

FRISCO — The public comment period for proposed EPA rules on bee-killing pesticides may be over, but the battle over pesticide policies will continue, as conservation groups suspect that the pesticide industry may have exerted undue influence over the rule-making process.

Those concerns are reinforced by some of the country’s beekeepers, who say the proposed rule doesn’t do enough to address federal responsibility to address the impact of pesticides on bee deaths. The Pollinator Stewardship Council recently submitted a letter to the EPA detailing its concerns about the proposed new rule. Continue reading

New documents show EPA tried to warn Colorado about blowout potential at Gold King Mine

New records show the agency was keenly aware of potential blowout danger at the mine

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The portal of sorrow at the Gold King Mine. Photo courtesy EPA.

*Story corrected Aug. 22 at 12:02 a.m. in paragraph 5. Colorado and Utah attorneys general are taking aim at the EPA, not the Colorado and Utah governors.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The EPA knew there was potential for a dangerous blowout at the Gold King Mine at least since the summer of 2014, when the agency issued a Task Order Statement of Work.

In the July 25, 2014, order, the EPA wrote that conditions at the “Gold King Mine present an endangerement to human health and the environment and meet the criteria for initiating a removal action …”

Just more than a year later, the mine spilled about 3 million gallons of water tainted with arsenic, zinc, manganese, cadmium and lead. Concentrations of some pollutants spiked to many times the level deemed toxic for fish and other aquatic life.

New information about what the EPA was doing when its contractors accidentally breached a rubble dam to trigger the spill are detailed in documents the agency publicly released last week.

The EPA published the documents in an effort to respond “to concerns and to evaluate impacts to water and sediment that may have been contaminated by the Gold King Mine release,” according to this agency web page.  the Denver Post reported that the Republican attorneys general of Colorado and Utah — apparently on a politically motivated EPA witch hunt — alleged that the EPA has withheld information about the mine.

“Given the experience with the August 5, 2015 blow out from pressurized water at the Gold King Mine, additional work is needed to ensure there are no more blockages holding back water which could contribute to future surges of contaminated water. The EPA and State responders have begun these efforts, but they have not yet been completed,” the agency wrote.

The work that was being done when the water surged out of the mine was aimed at relieving pressure buildup from historic construction operations at the interconnected mines by the previous mining operator. Among other things, the contractors working for the EPA were trying to improve site access, stabilize the mine structure and control water and metals.

The work order also describes previous work done by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, including trying to stabilize the existing opening to allow mine water drainage

The work order states that the existing conveyance channel shall be protected and maintained during the work.

“If it becomes necessary to remove these drainage features, then suitable measures must be installed to control flows during the work. A replacement conveyance system is required to be installed after the portal and underground work are completed,” according to the work order.

In a key passage, the work order describes what the EPA had in mind with future work:

“It is proposed to re-open the Gold King Mine portal and workings to investigate the conditions to assess the on-going releases. This will require the incremental de-watering and removal of such blockages to prevent blowouts. The work is intended to take place in September-October, 2014. In addition, the secondary purpose of the work is to attempt to identify and characterize specific water flows into the mine and evaluate potential means to mitigate those flows if possible.”

A key focus of the work was to repair the portal in order to try and control what the EPA knew to be a potentially disastrous surge of polluted water:

“In addition, specify the anticipated approach for removing overburden, debris and re-establishing a safe structure that can be used for entry and egress and secured when not in use. This includes installing a portal gate with a secured locking system …

“Measures will be taken to control water and metal precipitate sludge and sediment that are impounded behind any blockage at the portal or in the mine. This will include the treatment of surge water discharge as necessary to prevent an uncontrolled release and impact to surface water.”

The EPA also knew that the water at the Gold King Mine would have to be treated at some point:

“A temporary water retention and sludge management pond must be prepared and operated, as necessary, on site to manage mine water and sludge removed from the adit. This will be used to manage impounded mine water and base flows and metal precipitate sludge from the mine workings during theconstruction activities.”

The second key document released by the EPA is a May 2015 Action/Work Plan which names ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION, LLC as the contractor. The plan outlines the scope of work and the operational approach.

In a background section, the agency once again detailed historic conditions at the mine that likely primed the site for the toxic surge on Aug. 5 this year, clearly recognizing the potential for a disastrous blowout:

The Gold King Mine has not had maintenance of the mine working since 1991, and the workings have been inaccessible since 1995 when the mine portal collapsed. This condition has likely caused impounding of water behind the collapse. In addition, other collapses within the workings may have occurred creating additional water impounding conditions. Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals.

The Scope of Work section says that the contractor was to remove material covering the adit, which is probably what was being done when the mine spilled its guts.

Read all the EPA’s posted documents here: http://www2.epa.gov/goldkingmine/epa-posts-gold-king-mine-file-documents

EPA Action/Work Plan

https://www.scribd.com/doc/275630269/Gold-King-Mine-Action-Work-Plan

Gold King Mine Task Order Statement of Work

Gold King Mine spill investigations start

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What really happened at the Gold King Mine? Photo via EPA.

EPA expects to have some answers within 60 days

Staff Report

FRISCO — Responding to congressional requests for an investigation into the Gold King Mine spill that fouled hundreds of miles of the Animas and San Juan rivers with toxic pollutants, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General this week announced that it will launch a full review of the disaster.

On Aug. 5, workers at the mine near Silverton triggered the release, sending about 3 million gallons of water laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury surging downstream.

According to the official notice on the investigation, the OIG’s Office of Program Evaluation, Office of Audit, and Office of Investigations will all be involved.

And as pledged by EPA chief Gina McCarthy, there will also be an outside review, led by the U.S. Department of the Interior, aimed at assessing the factors that led to the Gold King Mine spill. According to the EPA, the results will be released to the public within 60 days.

In a prepared statement, the EPA said the goal of the independent review is to provide EPA with an analysis of the incident that took place at Gold King Mine, including the contributing causes.

Both investigations will help inform ongoing and planned site assessments, investigations, and construction or removal projects.

Climate: EPA seeks to cut landfill methane emissions

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Cutting methane emissions is a key piece of the Obama administration’s climate strategy.

Cost of new regs estimated at $55 billion

Staff Report

FRISCO — Oil and gas drilling aren’t the only sources of methane. Landfills generate a significant amount of the heat-trapping gas as waste materials decompose in the ground. Now, the EPA wants to reduce those emissions amount by a third with a rule that would require landfills to collect and control methane.

According to the agency, municipal landfills are the third-largest source of methane, accounting for 18 percent of methane emissions in 2013 – the equivalent of approximately 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution. Continue reading

EPA plans internal, external investigations of Gold King Mine disaster

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EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy meets with staff at the Unified EPA Area Command in Durango, CO. The Unified EPA Area Command is charged with coordinating the Gold King Mine incident response.

Colorado, New Mexico lawmakers ask President Obama for federal help with disaster response

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said her agency is taking full responsibility for the toxic spill from the Gold King Mine into Cement Creek, near Silverton, Colorado. As much as 3 million gallons of water polluted with heavy metals surged downstream into the Animas River and on to the San Juan River in Utah.

The spill was triggered by workers at the mine who were doing work on behalf of the EPA, and McCarthy said the agency will conduct an internal investigation, and also ask for an outside review of the incident.

“We couldn’t be more sorry and upset … and we will hold ourselves to a higher standard,” McCarthy said during her Aug. 12 press conference in Durango. She acknowledged concerns about notification procedures early during the incident and said those questions would be addressed as part of the investigations. Continue reading

EPA says there’s no sign of widespread fish mortality after Gold King Mine spill

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Containment and treatment ponds near the Gold King Mine have helped reduce the flow of contaminants into Cement Creek and the Animas River. Photo via EPA.

Emergency work at spill site is reducing pollution discharge

Staff Report

FRISCO — Environmental experts say that, so far, there’s no sign of widespread fish mortality in the Animas River after the Aug. 5 spill from the Gold King Mine, near Silverton that sent about 1 million gallons of tainted water surging downstream.

The discharge included heavy metals like zinc, which can kill trout, but in an Aug. 10 update, the EPA said that fish cages placed directly in the Animas River by Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists indicate one mortality out of 108 fish tested.  The agency is working with the New Mexico Department of Game Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate reports of impacts to wildlife. Continue reading

Public meeting on Animas River spill to be live-streamed

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Sampling data after the toxic spill into the Animas River shows spikes in heavy metal concentrations.

Initial sampling shows huge spike in zinc concentrations, which could be bad news for fish

Staff Report

FRISCO — Engineers still have been able to completely staunch the flow of water from a mine portal near Silverton, Colorado, where a major spill sent at least 1 million gallons of polluted water surging into the Animas River.

In its Aug. 8 update, the EPA said the mine adit is still discharging approximately 500 gallons per minute, although the flow is decreasing and a makeshift treatment system of detention ponds appears to be effectively lowering the acidity of the discharge. Continue reading

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