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Audio of Administrator McCarthy's Press Conference, Durango, CO 8/12/2015

Audio from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s remarks and press conference at the Unified EPA Area Command in Durango, CO, on response efforts relating to the release of waste water from Gold King Mine.


TRANSCRIPT

Durango Press Conference 8.12.15

Gina McCarthy:  
Hi, everybody.  I'm Gina McCarthy.  I'm the administrator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  And here with me is Dave Ostrander.  Dave is the incident commander working our Unified Area Command Center in Durango.  Mr. Ostrander has been a long-term employee at EPA.  He is amply qualified to be able to lead this effort.  I welcome him taking this on.  We know how serious this issue is and how much EPA is working hard throughout the night and days to actually take responsibility for this action as well as to speedily look at both the short and long-term consequences.  So, I'm excited that Dave is here.  He actually got his bachelor's degree in geological engineering from Colorado School of Mines.  There couldn't be anybody better to actually understand how we resolve these situations moving forward.  

Now, I just came from a briefing that Dave and others provided to me on the status of the cleanup and the status of the monitoring of the plume.  I am excited that they are fully operational and they've been fully operational.  And we are working this issue very hard.  Now, they provided me a status of where they are now and provided me all the information that they have moving forward.  And I want to reassure everybody, one of the reasons for my being here is to let everybody know that EPA does take full responsibility for this incident.  And we are working on both making the short-term decisions that we need to make.  

But I also will assure that this Unified Command Center is just that unified.  We are coordinated.  We have good, solid partners throughout the states, at local community levels, and with the tribes.  So, we are working hand-in-hand, not only to make sure that we meet the needs of these communities, but we also will be working hand-in-hand to make decisions moving forward.  So, as you probably know, EPA's mission is to protect public health and the environment.  No agency could be more upset about the incident happening, more dedicated in terms of doing our job and getting this right.  So we couldn't be more sorry, but the good news is, today, we do have information to share.  We have been, I think, knowing that people have been anxiously awaiting data quality, water quality results moving forward.  And we do have new data that we will be sharing.  I'll give you a sense of that data and we will move forward to talk about this in more detail later in the day with our partners.  But we have water quality data from August 7th, 8th, and 9th from La Plata County.  And it shows that the levels have returned to pre-event conditions.  Now, we let the science be our guide, and we worked with our partners.  

So, this is very good news, but I want to make sure you understand that there are additional steps that we are going to take, working with those partners, working with our counties and our local communities so that they can have a chance to review this data thoroughly.  And they can have a full opportunity to talk through what this means in terms of decisions that they are going to make moving forward.  But we will have more details on that data as the day progresses.  

Now, we are also proactively looking, as I've said before, at the investigations of the incidents -- the incident itself.  We are doing an internal EPA investigation and we're also going to seek independent review and investigation of what happened.  We will be saying more later about what that independent review will involve and who will be involved.  But right now, rest assured that we will learn lessons from this and we will move those lessons forward in the work moving ahead.  

Now, in the meantime, I have also asked that our folks throughout all of our regions take a look at other mining assessments and cleanup responses that are underway or planned, because we may want to make sure that we are taking a hiatus here and looking at those to make sure there is no similar potential that we have -- that happened here that might happen in those activities.  So, we're going to put those on hold until we look at them all and make sure.  And if there are similar situations to what we saw today, we will await the results of those investigations before we proceed with those assessments or cleanup efforts.  

So, with that, I would like to -- just a sec -- end by saying that I want to thank you for your attention to this issue.  I want to assure the general public as well as the leaders at the state, county, local, and tribal leaders that we are working hand-in-hand with them to expedite this review, to expedite hopefully a return to some sense of normalcy, in terms of the uses of this river.  But as always, EPA is going to let science be our guide.  And so, we are going to be moving quickly to take a look at the data and continue to process it.  But that will always be done in partnership with our -- with our local leaders.  So with that, I would be happy to take a few questions.

Male Speaker:
Ms. McCarthy?

Gina McCarthy:
Yes?

Male Speaker:
You said you're very upset about this.  Understandably.  Governor Hickenlooper, the governor of New Mexico, tribal leaders, a lot of local people here on the ground are very upset with the EPA's response.  Governor Hickenlooper said yesterday you're days late.  And the governor of New Mexico complained that they were not warned about this immediately, and it took quite a while --

Gina McCarthy:
Yeah.

Male Speaker:
-- and they didn't hear from you first, has the EPA treated itself differently than it would some other entity that might cause an environmental hazard of this nature?

Gina McCarthy:
Well, EPA, as I've said before -- our mission is to protect public health and the environment.  We will hold ourselves to a higher standard than anyone else.  Now, I have heard concerns about notifications and how quickly we were able to ramp up.  And we will address those issues as we look at the investigation.  And we work with those states moving forward.  The most important thing is that we are moving forward.  We are fully ramped up.  We have data coming in.  We can assess that data.  

The very good news is that the data so far is showing that water quality does restore itself to its prior conditions.  And so, we're going to be using that lesson as we move downstream, to make sure that we do the testing we need to do and we provide the information to decision-makers that they are looking for EPA to make, that is high-quality and reliable science.

Male Speaker:
So, why were there --

Gina McCarthy:
Can I move on to --

Male Speaker:
-- delays, though?

Gina McCarthy:
-- another question, please?

Male Speaker:
But why were there --

Gina McCarthy:
Sir.

Male Speaker:
-- delays?

Mark Serde:
Oh, I'm Mark Serbde [spelled phonetically], [unintelligible] affiliate out of Denver.  Have you been to the mine in your visit so far?  And do you plan -- not -- are you going to visit the mine?

Gina McCarthy:
Well, the most important thing for this trip was for me to actually come to the Unified Command Center to meet with the governors or whoever would like to meet local community representatives so that we can make sure that -- that their needs are being met.  That is my first order of business.  I did not go to the mine.  As you know, it's a significant distance away.  But I did visit the river.  And I took a look at it myself.  I wanted to get a sense of the river.  And I think that the good news is it seems to be restoring itself.  

But we have continued work to do, and EPA is here today.  And just because I'm not here, it doesn't mean you don't have experts -- actually, more than 100 experts right here -- as well as additional folks, hundreds of them back at EPA, working this issue with our federal, and state, and local partners and tribal partners.

Male Speaker:
Do you feel that you can make a solid judgment of what needs to be done without physically seeing the mine itself?

Gina McCarthy:
Can I?  That's not my field of expertise.  But I have taken, I think, some very strong action to make sure that we're doing two things -- not just looking at it with EPA expertise, but also independently.  So, I am going to rely on technical experts to talk about this and look at it.  As you probably know, we've also diverted additional effluent -- our waste water that's coming out of that mine.  And it's being treated before it's being redeposited into the river, so that we do have the mine under control at this point, as far as I know.  I can let Dave further talk about that.  

But right now, the mine is in -- is being managed.  My job is to manage the agency, our response, and to ensure everybody that we are going to be fully accountable for this in a transparent way.

Male Speaker:
State governments have incurred costs because of this.  What --

Gina McCarthy:
Yes.

Male Speaker:
-- is the timeline that the EPA will reimburse the three states affected?

Gina McCarthy:
Well, there is a process for the claims that the federal government has overall.  We already have a claims process that people can access.  They can get the forms online.  They can talk to human beings.  We can get those claims in as quickly as possible.  And we'll follow the federal government's process for responding to those claims.  Right back there --

Male Speaker:
What is your --

Gina McCarthy:
-- sir.

Male Speaker:
-- timeline as to when the river might open back up?

Gina McCarthy:
Well, that's the issue that we're going to be discussing.  I mean, as you know, as the plume goes down, it's begun to disperse.  And it's being done naturally.  It's also being done because we've taken some action at Navajo Dam to actually increase the flow there, to help that dispersion, so that we are working with this to make sure that downstream, while it's no longer visible because it's being dispersed, that we're taking the necessary tests and we're taking a look at wildlife fish, all the kind of work that we need to do, and responding to folks for drinking water, and cattle water, and those kinds of things.  But -- but I cannot give you exact dates on when things will happen, because again, we're going to let the testing and the science drive those decisions.  Working with our partners.  

And so, there may be -- there may be very short-term opportunities because of the upstream.  It's been a while.  And we have data that looks good.  But we're going to allow those decisions to be made collaboratively, as we do in the Unified Command Center.

Peter Marcus:
Peter Marcus [spelled phonetically] with the Durango Herald.  Our phone has been ringing all the day -- the public wanting to know how they can meet you today and where they can meet you today.  Obviously, that's not happening.  You're having some closed-door meetings with officials.  Granted, that's important to you.

Gina McCarthy:
It's not very closed right here, sir.

Peter Marcus:
No, it is not.  But the media is.

Male Speaker:
Yeah.  The media.

Peter Marcus:
The --

Gina McCarthy:
Yeah.

Peter Marcus:
The public wanted --

Gina McCarthy:
Yeah.

Peter Marcus:
-- a chance to speak directly with you, to voice their concerns.  So, what do you say to that [inaudible]?

Gina McCarthy:
Well, we can certainly respond to those requests.  But right now, I have a schedule where I am making sure that I touch base with all of their representatives and their technical experts so that we are responding to the needs that we know are being raised and we're doing that well.  That's my first responsibility.  

Now, I do know that there have been a number of public meetings.  Those will continue.  Whether or not I am engaged in that, this agency is responding to the need for public to have transparent data available as soon as we possibly can.  The good news is we're beginning to see that data coming out because we've had the time to quality control it and do the --

[end of transcript]

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