There was a huge outcry from the public following the Environmental Protection Agency's Gold King mine spill on Wednesday, Aug. 5. Many were quick to call out the irony of the situation in that the EPA did not stay true to their title as a "protection" agency, but rather, caused the environment quite a bit of harm. The EPA is known for it's passionate and aggressive approach to environmental safety, including water cleanliness, as illustrated in this video:
So, it's definitely ironic — and to some people, aggravating — that this very organization hurt the environment with a spill of their own. What many accused the EPA of protecting, instead, was their own reputation.
The spill was originally reported as 1 million gallons of wastewater, but was revealed days later that it was actually 3 million. This only created more distrust and outrage from the public, especially from those who were already not fans of the organization to begin with. This gave those who oppose the EPA an opportunity to criticize all the organization's activity, including recent controversial carbon emission regulations:
"The EPA is supposed to help prevent environmental catastrophes, not cause them," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., a member of the House leadership and the Energy and Commerce Committee. "But, sadly, President Obama's EPA has been too busy threatening American jobs with radical regulations instead of focusing on what should be their core mission." (Read more from this article here).
Social media exploded with criticism:
Gina McCarthy, administrator for the EPA, made a Facebook post on Wednesday, Aug. 12, saying the EPA takes full responsibility for the spill:
This response came an entire week after the spill had occurred, however, during which time the wastewater made its way into two additional states and harmed local communities who had no solution other than to wait. Not only was the EPA slow in reaction, but they were also far from transparent in giving information on the spill. More than a week after the spill took place, the best answer they could give was that it would take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks just to get the test results back, and it would very likely take years to pay the bill.
The EPA has said recently that the contamination levels in the river have returned to pre-spill levels, but this statement has been met with skepticism and concern from state health officials. Some recreational river use bans have been lifted, but official results have yet to be released — or at least, reliable closure has not been given.
While the EPA undoubtedly dropped the ball during this incident, supporters came to the defense of the organization, stating that this was an accident and the intention of the EPA was to clean up the wastewater from the mine. Mine leaks are a large problem in Colorado, so the fact that the EPA was there to clean it proves the pure intention and good purpose they had in the first place.
As with most government organizations, the opposition is quick to jump on any mistake, but the EPA and those who support it have worked to implement legislation — such as the Clean Power Plan — to improve the state of climate change and the environment as a whole (though often such legislation is usually met with some controversy.)
In this particular situation though, there were clearly mistakes that could have been handled better. The EPA didn't just mess up by causing the spill in the first place; they consistently handled the situation poorly with a lack of communication and trying to undermine the seriousness of the situation in order to protect themselves.
Hopefully they learned their lesson from this incident and will exercise a more cautious — or at least, a more honest and transparent — approach in future situations.