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Press Release Published: Oct 12, 2016

Chairmen Question DOJ on Lack of Prosecution in Animas River Spill

Decision raises concern of double standard in prosecutions of negligent discharge cases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), and House Oversight and Government Reform Interior Subcommittee Chairman Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting a briefing on DOJ’s decision not to take up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) recommendation of criminal charges over the Animas River spill.

EPA OIG found evidence of criminal wrongdoing by an EPA employee including direct discharge of pollutants in violation of the Clean Water Act and providing false statements in a criminal investigation.

Key excerpts from the letter:

“The Gold King Mine disaster resulted in three million gallons of wastewater containing toxic materials, such as lead and arsenic, pouring into the Animas River. … This is a serious incident and it deserves a serious response from the U.S. Department of Justice. …

“By not taking up the case, the Department of Justice looks like it is going easy on its colleagues in EPA. Its lack of action on these charges give the appearance of hypocrisy, and seem to indicate that there is one set of rules for private citizens and another for the federal government. The EPA disaster deserves the same level of accountability to which private citizens are held. …

“Furthermore, research conducted by Oversight Committee staff indicates a large gap between the number of criminal referrals from inspectors general across the federal government and the number of prosecutions taken up by the Department.”

View the letter here.


In September 2015, the committees held a hearing on the EPA’s Animas River spill.