02.17.17

Gardner Speaks on Senate Floor About Gold King Mine Spill, Scott Pruitt Nomination

Washington, D.C. – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy, today spoke on the Senate floor about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal to fully reimburse Coloradans for damages relating to the EPA-born Gold King Mine spill. Gardner discussed a commitment from Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, to visit Colorado to assure Coloradans he will fulfill the promises that were broken under the Obama Administration.

Click here to view Senator Gardner’s remarks.

Rush Transcript:

“Thank you Mr. President, I come to the floor today, I rise to speak on the nomination of Scott Pruitt to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who I intend to support. 

“Over the past several weeks, we have heard a number of Senators come to the floor, colleagues come to the floor, and hour after hour of session, 24-hour sessions through the night, 1, 2, 3, 4 in the morning and beyond, to complain about this nominee or that nominee, to express their concern about this nominee or that nominee. 

“In fact, many times I think that the only reason there is opposition to the nominee, is that they disagree with the nominee is because it wasn't Hillary Clinton that made the nomination. We’ve heard countless people come to the floor today to talk about their opposition to the Trump Administration EPA. Now, I've got a picture here on the floor that shows the Obama EPA. 

“This is a river in Colorado, enjoyed by thousands of people each and every summer. This is a picture of that same river under the Obama EPA. This was caused when 800,000 pounds of mineral, of lead, of waste, excuse me not lead, but of other waste going into the river, because of a mishandled EPA project. This wasn't Scott Pruitt. This wasn't Donald Trump. This was the Obama EPA that did this, and I only wish that my colleagues who have come to the floor for the past several hours had shown similar outrage when the Obama EPA did this to Colorado, inflicted this kind of damage on people in Southwestern Colorado in the Gold King Mine spill. 

“You want to talk about protecting states? Why didn't we stand up and protect this river? 

“On August 5, 2015, the EPA caused this spill, they admit they caused this spill. Dumping three million gallons of toxic waste into Cement Creek and into the Animas River. 

“Most Americans remember seeing this river. Most Americans remember seeing pictures of what this river looked like across newspapers, across television stations in August of 2015. In fact, when I visited in South Korea, the President of South Korea asked me how is the river in Colorado that the EPA dumped toxic sludge into?

“In fact, I saw this picture on the news just a couple days ago, somebody was using it to complain about the Trump EPA Administration. Somebody was using it to attack Scott Pruitt. But this picture had nothing to do with Scott Pruitt. This was the EPA led by Gina McCarthy. 

“My response to the spill was that the EPA should be held accountable to the same level in which EPA holds private businesses accountable. I think that's a pretty good standard. But if the EPA is going to make sure that somebody lives up to a standard, that the EPA live up to the same standard. That basic standard for the EPA to meet, because the agency caused the spill, it simply must apply the same requirements to itself that it does to a private company. 

“So it was with great disappointment, but very little surprise, that when the EPA decided to not subject itself to those same standards they walked away from the promises that they made. Sure the EPA had standards under Barack Obama, they were double standards. The Obama Administration's EPA’s refusal to not receive and process the personal injury or economic loss claims arising out of this spill at the Gold King Mine in Southwest Colorado is appalling. And I simply wish the outrage was there when the EPA walked away from the people that it had injured in Colorado. 

“We haven't heard talk about it here. We've heard a lot of complaints here. But nobody is saying that they should be paying for the damage in Colorado that they created. After all, we're discussing an EPA that with the strike of a pen, oftentimes with very little input from those people who would be affected, used overly burdensome regulations and heavy-handed enforcement to punish private businesses, despite the assurances and promises from the then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that the agency takes full responsibility for the Gold King Mine spill. 

“The agency in 2017, just weeks ago, turned its back on the promises that it made and denied paying for the harm they caused to Coloradans. Promises were broken to our neighbors downstream in New Mexico, in Utah, including the Southern Ute Indian tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute, and the Navajo Nation. 

“Administrator McCarthy called me last month, just before the news broke, the report that EPA would not be processing the claims by dozens, upon dozens, upon dozens of individuals and businesses in Southwestern Colorado under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the federal government. 

“Over a year - the spill occurred in August of 2015 - over a year later, and in the waning days of the Obama Administration, they turned their backs on the promises they made to Colorado and notified us in the waning hours of an Administration saying: I'm sorry, we're not going to help the individuals who were harmed. This refusal to compensate for the spill is unacceptable and wholly inconsistent with EPA’s commitment to take full responsibility to the states, local and tribal governments and communities. 

“Mr. President, this past election the voters said they wanted something different from the last eight years in Washington because what they experienced was not working for the people. Broken promise after broken promise. A year and a half ago the EPA caused the Gold King Mine spill and the past Administration refused to make it right for Colorado. 

“Status quo at the EPA is not acceptable because broken promises, that's the status quo. I've had earnest conversations with Mr. Pruitt over the past several weeks about my sincere disappointment about those broken promises, and what we had to go through in Colorado, and what businesses had to go through in Colorado, as a result of the EPA spill. And you can imagine, in an area that is reliant on tourism, what photographs of this and headlines across the country and nightly news stories can do to a tourism-based economy. 

“Those kayakers we saw -- show the other chart. Those kayakers that we saw in this chart, they had to shut the river down. Outfitters weren't allowed to be on the river. Dollars lost because guides couldn't get out there. Books and trips had already been paid for had to be canceled. People didn't go because of the EPA’s spill. Their refusal to pay -- the EPA’s refusal to pay for lost property, lost economic opportunity, and lost business opportunity -- is simply unacceptable, and the earnest conversations that I have had with Scott Pruitt, he has promised to make it right. He has promised to stand up for the people in Colorado. He have has promised that he will make amends and pay for the damages that the Obama Administration refused to pay for. 

“He assured me that he is going to make it right and that he is going to work with the people that EPA injured and those who experienced economic losses and make sure that they are fully compensated. He agreed to come to Colorado shortly after his confirmation to make sure that the people of Colorado know that he will fulfill the promises that were failed under the Obama Administration.

“I also talked about another top legislative priority of mine. Passing Good Samaritan legislation. Good Samaritan legislation would allow good samaritans, mining industry, state agencies, local governments, nonprofits, and other groups, the ability to clean up the environment and to improve water quality conditions around abandoned mines. 

“According to the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, it’s estimated there are more than 160,000 abandoned hard rock mines that exist across the United States and at least 33,000 of these mines pose environmental or safety concerns. 

“One of the immediate actions we can do in Congress to address this toxic waste and improve our environment is to pass Good Samaritan legislation. It's been decades as Congress has tried. It's been decades this Congress has failed. It's time to start succeeding and time to start cleaning up the environment. The last time the environment and public works committee was able to advance legislation on Good Samaritan was in 2006 from my predecessors Senators Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar. 

“Unfortunately, since 2006, this concept has been unsuccessful and caught in partisan politics. It's time to take steps forward facilitating cleanup of the nation's abandoned mines to prevent more spills like the Gold King Mine, and I've secured the commitment from Scott Pruitt to work with me on this legislation at the EPA to get this done, to work with both sides of the aisle to accomplish something so that we can prevent this from happening.

“I'm not going to stop working until our constituents are made whole from the EPA-caused spill at the Gold King Mine. I'm not going to stop working until we pass --we've got to continue working to pass the Good Samaritan legislation. 33,000 mines that pose a risk to the West is unacceptable to our citizens, our pristine environment, our waterways, our children.

“Mr. President, this wasn't Scott Pruitt, this wasn't Donald Trump. This was an Administration under the previous EPA, led by Gina McCarthy and President Obama that walked away from the people of Colorado and the promises made. And it gives me great - it heartens me greatly - to know that at least we have an Administration that will move away from every promise abandoned, to fulfilling the promises of protecting our environment. 

“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”

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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 Budget Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy.

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