By John Siciliano
The cost of cleaning up a major toxic waste spill in the West caused by an Environmental Protection Agency contractor could soar as high as $27.7 billion.
That’s the conclusion of study released Tuesday morning by the right-leaning American Action Forum. The group is one of the first to attempt to estimate the clean-up cost of what will likely be remembered as one of the biggest environmental disasters of 2015.
The toxic spill began Aug. 5 when an EPA contractor accidentally ruptured a wall holding back millions of gallons of wastewater containing a variety of toxic substances such as mercury and lead at a closed gold mine in Colorado.
The resulting spill created a yellow plume of toxic sludge that flowed through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah via the Animas and San Juan rivers.
EPA and state officials say much of the toxic plume has dissipated in the Animas River, which the EPA confirmed Friday as being back to pre-spill conditions. But concerns remain that pollution in the rivers’ sediment layers may have to be removed, with officials predicting a clean-up effort that could take years to complete.
At the same time, the study raises questions about the EPA’s priorities. It suggests that the Animas spill occurred at a time when the agency had sought to increase its focus on President Obama’s climate change agenda. The president’s budget proposed reducing funding for EPA water protection programs to do that, the study says.
“In the president’s [fiscal year] 2015 budget, he and EPA proposed to cut more than $555 million from clean water protection while increasing the climate change budget by $46 million,” reads the concluding paragraph of the analysis. “Perhaps we are seeing the results from those budget decisions now.” (my emphasis)
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