Senate Committee on Indian Affairs sends subpoena to leader of EPA

A spill at the abandoned Gold King Mine in Colorado prompted a release of orange-colored waste into the river systems that lead to the Southern Ute Reservation, the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation and the Navajo Nation. Photo from Navajo Nation OPVP Russell Begaye And Jonathan Nez / Facebook

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs took the rare step of issuing a subpoena to the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday.

But instead of holding a business meeting and bringing the matter to a vote, the chairman and the vice chairman of the panel exercised their authority to subpoena Administrator Gina McCarthy and one of her top assistants. The request will ensure the agency sends someone to an upcoming field hearing that focuses on the Gold King Mine disaster.

"It troubles me that this committee had to take the extraordinary step of issuing a subpoena to a confirmed federal official," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the panel.

"Did the agency made a mistake?" added Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), the vice chairman. "Absolutely."

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) noted that McCarthy visited the Navajo Nation after the spill last year. Ranchers and farmers on the New Mexico portion of the reservation were among those hardest hit by the disaster, which polluted the San Juan River that's used for agriculture and livestock.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Discusses EPA Subpoena

Still, he agreed that the Obama administration needs to send someone to the field hearing.

"We need the EPA to be working with us to make sure that we make this right," Udall said.

The hearing takes place on April 22 at city council chambers in Phoenix, Arizona. It's being held at the request of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who led the call for the subpoena.

"It's really kind of remarkable that we going through this kind of gyration" to get the EPA to testify at the hearing, McCain said.

Barrasso said the subpoena will be sent to McCarthy and to Mathy Stanislaus, who serves as the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management at the EPA.

The witness list for the hearing hasn't been released but Udall said the EPA has committed to sending "two senior level witnesses" to Arizona.

Committee Notices:
Business Meeting to authorize the issuance of a subpoena to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, to testify before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, on April 22, 2016, in Phoenix, AZ. (April 13, 2016)
Field Oversight Hearing on “Examining EPA’s Unacceptable Response to Indian Tribes" (April 22, 2016)

Federal Register Notice:
National Priorities List (April 7, 2016)

Prior Committee Hearing Notices:
Oversight Hearing on the Department of the Interior’s Role in the EPA’s Animas Spill (December 9, 2015)
House Committee on Science, Space and Technology: Holding EPA Accountable for Polluting Western Waters (September 9, 2015)
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: Oversight of the Cause, Response, and Impacts of EPA’s Gold King Mine Disaster (September 16, 2015)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee: Oversight Hearing on "EPA's Gold King Mine Disaster: Examining the Harmful Impacts to Indian Country" (September 16, 2015)
House Natural Resources Committee and House Oversight Committee: Joint Oversight Hearing on “EPA’s Animas Spill" (September 17, 2015)

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