EPA mistake should be investigated

A private company guilty of releasing 3 million gallons of wastewater into a river would be in deep trouble with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A small- to medium-size firm probably would find its survival threatened.

But the culprit behind such a release affecting New Mexico and Colorado will not suffer the EPA’s wrath. The EPA is the culprit.

Workers under EPA supervision accidentally released the wastewater during an inspection of an abandoned gold mine near Silverton, Colorado. The waste, a brownish-orange color, flowed into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Because the waste has high concentrations of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals, it is a serious threat to the environment.

EPA officials were downplaying the problem. Would they take that approach if the spill had been triggered by someone in the private sector? What do you think?

Obviously, the agency needs to come clean on just how serious the spill is, in both the short term and for years to come. Given the fact the EPA once considered declaring the Animas River a Superfund site because of wastewater releases much smaller than the recent one, local and state officials are right to be worried.

Then there is the matter of blame. A similar private-sector spill would result in crippling fines levied by the EPA – along with consideration of criminal negligence charges. Will anyone at the EPA even lose a day’s pay over this fiasco?

Doesn’t seem likely, does it?