Rep. Scott Tipton (R).
As the Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus reports, the longstanding debate over how to clean up heavy metal minewater pollution into the Animas River, which took on added urgency after the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered a huge spill of polluted water into the river in August, is starting to expose real gaps between who is genuinely interested in solving the problem–and, well, not:
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Thursday expressed concerns with the prospect of federal officials moving forward with a Superfund listing for Silverton near the inactive Gold King Mine.
A divide has emerged over the Superfund question, with some residents and officials of Silverton worried the listing would be a stain on the community. Silverton and San Juan County officials in August clarified their perspective, suggesting that they are open to a listing but that they have not “foreclosed any options.”
In comments before the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Tipton, a Cortez Republican, stated: “Designating Silverton a Superfund site … could severely damage the town’s reputation and prove costly to the local economy.” [Pols emphasis]
Downstream along the Animas River, which flows out of Silverton (population 629) and through communities of tens of thousands of people in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico, there’s a lot less concern about Silverton’s “reputation”–and more about their own health and their local economy. As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reported from the same Senate hearing:
“The spill makes clear the piecemeal approach of the past isn’t working,” Andy Corra, owner of 4Corners Riversports in Durango, said of cleaning up mine contaminants in southwest Colorado. “It’s an ongoing problem. We need a comprehensive approach to cleaning this up.”
Corra, who favors Superfund designation in the area of the spill, said his business saw a roughly $30,000 loss in revenue after the disaster.
“As a business owner, it makes me reluctant to invest in the future if this is going to happen again,” he said.
Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.
One of the reasons that Republicans lurched into overdrive attacking the EPA following the accidental spill of millions of gallons of minewater into the Animas River was the perceived need to deflect from the underlying true cause of the disaster: pollution that had been building up for years since the mines were closed while mine owners dickered and pointed fingers at each other. Talk about protecting “Silverton’s reputation” from the blight of a Superfund designation is largely a cover for local and multinational corporate desires to resume hard-rock mining in this area. Obviously, if the federal government is spending millions to clean up old pollution, it would be a bit of a problem to create new pollution through renewed mining.
And this is where you realize just how completely Rep. Scott Tipton has abandoned the best interests of the vast majority of his constituents along the Animas River. There’s no question in Durango and points downstream about what’s needed–whatever resources necessary to prevent another devastating minewater release. The way to do that is to bring in the “big guns” to clean up the mess in a comprehensive way. And in the United States of America, that means the EPA’s National Priorities List–a.k.a. the Superfund.
On a purely political level, to choose mining companies and a couple hundred holdouts in Silverton over tens of thousands downstream is stunning to us. Has CD-3 really become such a safe seat for Tipton that a he can disregard the health and safety of an overwhelming majority to keep so few people happy?
It shouldn’t be, folks. It should never be.