Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General (IG) Arthur A. Elkins requesting information regarding EPA and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision not to prosecute potential criminal misconduct by EPA employees involved in the Gold King Mine disaster. Senator McCain also released the following statement:
“It has been a year and a half since the Gold King Mine spill devastated the Navajo Nation, yet not a single employee at the EPA has been held accountable,” said Senator McCain. “Had a private company dumped toxic waste near somebody’s farmland, the EPA would be moving aggressively to put that company’s employees in jail. If the IG’s investigation uncovered evidence of potential criminal misconduct, and former officials at DOJ and EPA declined to take action, then I will be closely examining the rationale for dismissing the IG’s findings.”
On August 5, 2015, EPA staff and contractors breached an earthen dam blocking the adit to the Gold King Mine. The resulting release of three million gallons of toxic wastewater flowed into the Animas and San Juan Rivers and into the Navajo reservation. The acidic wastewater, which contained toxic metals like lead and mercury, devastated hundreds of Navajo farmers downstream of the mine. According to testimony by Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the total economic impact of the spill could total $335 million. The Navajo Nation is currently suing the EPA for damages.
On August 1, 2016, the EPA IG confirmed it was conducting a criminal investigation of the Gold King Mine disaster following Senators McCain and John Barrasso’s (R-WY) letter to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging DOJ to initiate a criminal investigation into the spill. On October 17, 2016, Senators McCain and Barrasso sent a letter to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy regarding information that the IG found evidence of wrongdoing, including violations of the Clean Water Act and the False Claims Act, and referred its criminal findings to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado for prosecution. Yet on the very same day, the U.S. Attorney declined to prosecute these offenses.
The letter is below.
Dear Inspector General Elkins:
I am writing regarding your investigation into potential criminal misconduct or administrative misconduct relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
I understand that the OIG will issue a Report on Investigation (ROI) on this matter in the near future. Of particular interest to me is any OIG findings of potential criminal or administrative misconduct by EPA employees under 18 U.S.C. 1001 (false statements) that have been referred to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the EPA. I understand that DOJ has declined to take action on OIG’s findings and that EPA has not yet responded.
I would like to review those findings along with the Department’s response. Therefore, I respectfully request a copy of the finalized ROI and documentation and the formal communication between OIG and DOJ/EPA on potential findings of criminal or administrative misconduct.
United States Senator