DURANGO, Colo. (CBS4)– The head of the Environmental Protection Agency toured the site of the Gold King Mine near Silverton on Friday, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper, Rep. Scott Tipton, Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. Cory Gardner.
But the meeting after the tour quickly turned when voters took a detour from the topic to focus on health care, the GOP and climate change.
EPA’s Scott Pruitt saw the progress of the cleanup two years after the spill at the mine sent millions of gallons of tainted mine wastewater into the Animas River and downstream into other states.
The EPA is considering paying for the damage to farmers and business owners.
Some protesters gathered outside the town hall in Durango following the tour, upset that the EPA isn’t being held accountable for the toxic spill.
“It’s been really sad to watch. There was a big push to try to fix it, to tend to the mine tailings and to the draining and now they’re looking at slashing funding,” said one protester.
The town hall following the tour was where it got interesting. The discussion about the Gold King Mine disaster was hijacked by health care and the debate on Capitol Hill.
Inside, members of the public were chosen at random to ask questions of Colorado’s elected leaders. Not one of those chosen asked a question about the mine spill or cleanup. Instead, they asked about health care, climate change and what’s happening with the GOP on Capitol Hill.
This was also the first in-person town hall attended by Sen. Gardner, and voters let him, and the others in attendance, know they were not happy about his resistance to talk to voters and hear what they have to say.
“Please, will you tell us, each individually, when you’ll be here to schedule an in-person town hall,” asked one voter.
Hickenlooper addressed the crowd about the mine tour, saying he is confident the current EPA leadership will make things right.
“With the administrator, up at the mine, he could not have been more candid of a: saying they still accept responsibility, that he is going to fight, despite the budget coming out of the White House, the Superfund budget, is still one of his very highest priorities,” said Hickenlooper.
Sen. Bennet released this statement after the tour: “We are hopeful that the EPA administrator walked away from his visit with a resolve to expedite resources to our affected communities that they were promised with the recent Superfund designation. We will continue pushing the EPA to review claims and prioritize this project.”