Federal report finds EPA negligence to blame for gold king spill; Nonprofit releases list of biggest corporate offenders

Jerry McBride


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is solely to blame for the Aug. 5 blowout and spill of the Gold King Mine, according to a recent report from the Department of the Interior (DOI). EPA workers were attempting to pump groundwater out of the mine and prevent the sealed mine from bursting under the pressure when the spill occurred, accidently causing the very disaster they were working to prevent.

The spill could have been prevented if EPA engineers had used technical equipment to adequately measure the levels of groundwater in the mine, the report concluded, contrasting the operation at the Gold King Mine with a successful one at Red and Bonita Mine in 2011.

“A critical difference… was the use in the latter case of a drill rig to bore into the mine from above and directly determine the level of the mine pool prior to excavating backfill at the portal,” says the DOI report. “Had it been done, the plan to open the mine would have been revised, and the blowout would not have occurred.”

Just north of Silverton, the Gold King Mine was one of the most profitable gold mines in the region at the turn of the 20th century. The mine’s disuse for decades, combined with the depth of mining tunnels, resulted in the extensive accumulation of groundwater that EPA operators unwillingly released. The spill released 3 million gallons of arsenicand lead-infested water through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

— Grant Stringer


Data released this week by Good Jobs First reveals that businesses have paid over $57 billion in environmental, health and safety penalties in the last five years. Eight of those corporations have paid over $1 billion each in fees, with oil and gas giant BP in the lead at $25 billion, largely as a result of misconduct in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

For Phillip Mattera, research director at Good Jobs First, these violations are hardly few and far between. “It seems like there’s another corporate scandal every other week,” Mattera told The Washington Post. “It’s hard to keep up, and so we wanted to create something that makes it easier to keep track.”

Oil and gas companies rank in the top spot with fines up to $32 billion in the last five years, followed by pharmaceutical firms at $13 billion in payments and utility and energy companies with over $3 billion. The automobile industry follows closely with almost $3 billion in fines, buoyed with over $1.2 billion from Toyota. Familiar companies such as Johnson & Johnson and General Motors also made the top 10 most-fined businesses.

The data was compiled by Good Jobs First, a nonprofit research organization that aims for corporate accountability and business transparency. According to Mattera, the list will likely expand beyond the already comprehensive list of environmental, health and safety violators. “Eventually we want this to cover kind of all forms of corporate misconduct,” he said in The Washington Post interview.

— Grant Stringer

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