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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/10/15

The Environmental Protection Agency needs to change its name to the Environmental Pollution Agency

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The Environmental Protection Agency needs to change its name to the Environmental Pollution Agency. The acronym 'EPA' would still apply - with no changes needed - and the change would give the world a clearer view about what they're all about.

The Animas River's ugly toxic wash was at first believed to be 1 million gallons of a yellowish-orange, poisonous, sludgy liquid. On Sunday, Aug. 9, however, EPA officials overseeing the region of the Animas River area confirmed the actual count is more like 3 million gallons. Cadmium, arsenic, copper, lead and zinc have been dispersed into the river and its tributary, Cement Creek, from wastewater buildup contained in an abandoned gold mine, named Gold King. The discharge is estimated still to be leaking into the river at a rate of 548 gallons per minute - down a bit from the initial torrent, estimated around 750 gallons per minute.

Did an environmental group cause this? No. Did Mother Nature's normal breakdown of geological matter create this? No. How's about eco-terrorists? No again. Answer: The EPA caused this horrendous spill. Yes, the Environmental Pollution Agency - oh, I mean the Environmental Protection Agency - caused this ecological nightmare.

Nobody takes the EPA seriously anymore, and at the top of the list is the EPA itself. For a long time, it has been nothing more, nothing less, than a political potato used by the state and federal powers-that-be to rubber stamp industrial projects of a myriad of types; and in the recent past, most of its focus seems to be on the mining of metals, making concessions for an inventory of other heavy industries, and of course, fitting the requests of Big Oil and Gas.

By Sunday, Aug. 9, the plume of mustard-colored water, holding toxic heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, copper, lead and zinc, had spanned more than 100 miles of the 126-mile stretch of river. The Animas meanders its way to the San Juan River in New Mexico, which opens into the Colorado River in Utah's Lake Powell.

The mustard-colored Animas River is a gift of the EPA, which blundered in working on an abandoned gold mine and opened a Pandora's box of heavy metals.
The mustard-colored Animas River is a gift of the EPA, which blundered in working on an abandoned gold mine and opened a Pandora's box of heavy metals.
(Image by thedenverchannel.com)
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The EPA was overseeing a cleanup crew trying to drain water from the orphaned and abandoned Gold King mine into holding ponds on Wednesday, Aug. 5; and the water surged, flooding Cement Creek, which carried it to the Animas River, a primary source of drinking water for Durango, Colo., and enjoyed by the people of Aztec, N.M., along with other cities and towns along its route. And as you're reading this, the plume will surely have reached Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon, carved by the Colorado River. In retrospect, from the amount of sludgy waste stored inside the mine, holding ponds were not a good idea. No. A body of water big enough to take care of the freshwater needs of a medium-sized city (a reservoir maybe?), or a 'holding pond' the size of a state lake in the Midwest, would have been better options for holding such a massive volume of poisonous gunk. Oh well . . . .

The blowout resulted from sludge rocketing through a loose-dirt barrier. An EPA source said work was being done to install a pipe to drain rising water in the mine. The initial deluge tore through Gold King's collapsed portal (elevation 11,458 feet), ripped apart and ravaged trees and culverts and even destroyed an SUV parked near the flood, according to reports.

In a public meeting Friday, David Ostrander, EPA's director of emergency preparedness for the region, told a crowd of onlookers: "I'm very sorry. This is a tragedy."

What?! You're sorry?! David Ostrander, is that what you have to say to the people of Durango, who rely on this river for their drinking and bathing needs? Well, Mr. Ostrander, thanks to you and your inept and blundering regional EPA office, trout fishing in the Animas River will be postponed for a while - probably at least a decade. And enjoying the wild rapids of this pristine beauty will most likely be cancelled, too, except for people who don't mind suffering the medical side effects of being exposed to toxic heavy metal poisoning after their trip down the river in a rubber raft. To call this a tragedy is as vile an understatement as tragedies come. But for some strange reason, all accountability is mere water under the bridge with such environmental mishaps. Mistakes of this nature should not be sloughed off with an "I'm very sorry. This is a tragedy."

And although society as a whole will most likely buy your apology, David Ostrander, any environmentalist sees red with such a silly and inane brush-off.

According to 9 News: "Shaun McGrath, administrator from the EPA Region 8 Office, said three million gallons of the toxic water laced with heavy metals spilled into Cement Creek last Wednesday. McGrath said the agency updated its initial estimate of one million gallons after checking a U.S.G.S. stream gauge on Cement Creek."

"These problems happen all the time," Mark Williams, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, told 9 News. "Almost every abandoned mine has the potential for that situation."

That's a stark and sobering statement, particularly when we consider that there are 55,000 abandoned underground mines in the western United States alone. Is the EPA going to honcho more of these mine retrogrades? And if so, will it use the same sort of tactics and geological knowhow as it did with the Gold King mine?

Really, is it the EPA's duty to be doing this at all, this cleanup work? Where are the greedy corporate businessmen and their heirs who benefitted from all the harvesting of such a monstrosity of excavation and metal harvesting? Don't they have an obligation here? And if corporate cleanups turn into ecological disasters, shouldn't these corporate fat cats have legal consequences for such disasters, which will undoubtedly plague whole regions of this country with more pollution tragedies? Taking this argument a bit further, shouldn't criminal, as well as civil, legal ramifications result from this ecological nightmare? After all, isn't poisoning a public waterway - in this case a watershed spreading over a vast region - just as nefarious as bombing a building? The threat to life and well-being is at the heart of both of these types of evil and senseless acts of terror.

It's time for the EPA to start protecting the environment instead of just being a political hot potato for the state and federal leaders to toss around, usually using it for the interests of big business. This agency should be a vanguard for protecting the environment and should be much more proactive in ecological concerns. It shouldn't be an extension of a Presidential administration or a group whose higher-ups hobnob with the governor and his cronies - and normally acting like sycophants and 'go-to guys'.

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)

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