Gardner Chairs Small Business Committee Hearing on Impact of Gold King Mine Spill

“EPA should be held to the same standard as EPA would hold a private company for the spill.”

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Washington, DC – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) chaired a hearing today of the Senate Small Business Committee on the impact of the Gold King Mine Spill on local communities and businesses.

Senator Gardner laid out the timeline of the spill, which occurred on August 5th, 2015, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released millions of gallons of wastewater into the Animas River. He discussed the EPA’s lackluster response to the spill and laid out much of the work that remains to be done.

He discussed possible legislative efforts to address the impact of this spill and prevent future spills, and committed to working in a bipartisan manner to find real solutions.

The full hearing, with all witness testimony, is available here via C-SPAN.


On August 5th 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency released approximately 3 million gallons of contaminated water into Cement Creek from Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colorado. 

The water quickly moved downstream to the Animas River, and eventually flowed into the San Juan River and Lake Powell, which is 300 miles downstream. The spill had an impact on Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute, and the Navajo Nation.  

From the outset of the spill, I have said that the EPA should be held to the same standard as EPA would hold a private company for the spill. This means investigations must be conducted, people must be held accountable, and tough questions must be asked. 

The La Plata County Sheriff closed public access to the Animas River on August 6th.  We visited the spill site on August 9th, Senator Bennet and I – four days after the spill – and the EPA still did not have an appropriate crisis response team in place. It was not until the following day, August 10th, that the EPA established a unified command center in Durango to address the spill. 

The river was not reopened until August 14th – 9 days after the initial surge of contaminated water. Water testing shows that the surface water of the river has returned to pre-event levels, but many have questions about sediment on the river bottom and the rocks lining the river. 

This sediment contains various pollutants and the EPA initially installed settling ponds to address this contamination, which we hope will slow the flow of contaminates in the Animas River. 

Last month there was a series of congressional oversight hearings that took place in both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. 

We learned answers to some inquiries during the EPA’s testimony at these hearings, but more questions remain on what exactly took place in the events leading up to and immediately following the spill, and how to get our communities back on track, including liability compensation from the EPA.

It’s my hope that the EPA’s Office of Inspector General’s report will provide more clarity and transparency on the spill and I also look forward to the release of the Department of Interior’s assessment of the Gold King Mine spill.

For Colorado and downstream communities, there are still serious concerns that exist that the EPA must address. EPA recently announced that by October 14th, the agency will open a temporary water treatment system which will replace the settling ponds that were first constructed by the EPA in August. 

It’s good news for our communities for the winter months, but further mitigation like EPA’s long-term remediation plan and the need for future monitoring for heightened contamination during spring runoff must still be addressed. 

Some claim that the Gold King Mine spill shows the need for broad mining reform legislation which would include reforms to the Mining Law of 1872. In reality, what we have to work on right now is the need for legislation that would allow these abandoned mines across the West to be cleaned up by Good Samaritans -  language that has passed the Senate committees before, while other conversations about mining laws move forward.

There has been broad bipartisan support for passing Good Samaritan legislation in the past.  I’m committed to working with Senator Bennet and the Environment and the Public Works Committee Chairman in a bipartisan fashion to get Good Samaritan legislation through the Senate.  In fact, that’s the only way that we are going to get Good Samaritan legislation through is to work in a bipartisan fashion.

I am also working with Senator Bennet on the need for a water treatment plant in the Upper Animas River watershed. 

And so today’s hearing is extremely important because it provides us with a different view then we’ve had in the previous hearings. It provides us with an opportunity to hear from people on the ground who are business owners, who represent businesses and communities, and who represent the people of the counties affected.

And that’s why I am disappointed that we do not have a EPA representative here who could answer basic questions about the points Congressman Tipton raised in his opening statement, about compensation, about how do you determine what level of compensation to provide to a hotel, whether it’s a cancellation, is that related to the Gold King Mine spill, of a rafting trip, is it a cancellation of a hotel room, is it a cancellation of a dinner reservation? How can we really determine what costs incurred? These are questions that we still have and we would have liked to have had answered today by the appropriate representative.

Property damage, lost economic opportunity, and as Congressman Tipton mentioned, the long-term impact. How do we get answers and compensation for these very significant issues?

There are going to be a number of proposals before Congress and I look forward to working on them with Senator Bennet. And again, I think it’s critically important that the only way we can address some of these issues is of course by with bipartisan support.                                                                                         


Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.


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