Frackenlooper’s big gulp of denial

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks water straight from the Animas River on Tuesday when he was in Durango to get an update about the blowout from Gold King Mine. The water was treated with an iodine tablet before he drank it, to kill any giardia. Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks water straight from the Animas River on Tuesday when he was in Durango to get an update about the blowout from Gold King Mine. The water was treated with an iodine tablet before he drank it, to kill any giardia.  [Photo by Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald]

After yesterday’s post (Don’t believe EPA chief Gina McCarthy) I got to wondering why she would tell a big fat lie when she knows the testing data is incomplete. I mean, I’ve seen Gina McCarthy on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She seems like a decent human being. But yesterday she said, “We have water quality data from August 7, 8 and 9 from La Plata County that show levels have returned to pre-event conditions.” Then I showed you data from last Thursday disputing that. Besides, test samples can’t possibly be analyzed fast enough for them to be saying stuff like that already. It’s nuts! We’re not idiots.

So I did some digging. Lo and behold it was right there in front of me all along in The Durango Herald. Turns out they have a reporter there, Peter Marcus who actually reports the news. Hallelujah. We don’t have that kind of journalism around here anymore so I wasn’t expecting to find answers in the local news. What a pleasant surprise! Let’s hope he still has a job after this week.

Anyway, as you probably know because it’s plastered all over the place, Hickenlooper drank Animas River water for a photo op on Tuesday. But Marcus reported on a clash in Rotary Park between Governor Hickenlooper and Shaun McGrath (EPA Region 8 administrator) that happened BEFORE the Hick’s big gulp. You might even say precipitated it. Shaun McGrath is also a decent human being. I have talked to him by phone several times.

McGrath politely asked Hickenlooper to stop making comments about the river returning to normal because they didn’t have the data to back that up. And you know what happened next, don’t you?

He released the Fracken …

Frackenlooper-sign8/11/15
State, federal officials clash over health of Animas River
EPA asks Hickenlooper to curb remarks about river’s health

Gov. John Hickenlooper had strong words for the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday after federal officials asked the governor to curb remarks on the health of the Animas River.

It was apparent during an informal meeting between state and federal officials that the two entities are at odds over whether the river is ready to reopen.

Speaking in Durango, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said a preliminary analysis of water samples taken Friday from Cement Creek – after a plume of mustard-yellow mining wastewater crawled down the river – shows that the water has largely returned to pre-event levels. Concentrations of heavy metals and pH had returned to within normal ranges, confirmed Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Remember this happened on Tuesday, the day before EPA chief Gina McCarthy arrived in Durango and announced: “We have water quality data from August 7, 8 and 9 from La Plata County that show levels have returned to pre-event conditions.” Now we know where that whole “pre-event” nonsense came from. Our idiot governor.

But an official with the EPA asked Hickenlooper to stop making comments about the returning health of the river.

“It doesn’t show where we are at right now,” Shaun McGrath, Region 8 administrator for the EPA, told Hickenlooper, as officials huddled on the grass at Rotary Park. “You have to have a couple of days of data to show that you’re actually back to baseline conditions, and we’re not there yet.”

“That’s nonsense,” Hickenlooper responded, pointing out that businesses that rely on the river to drive operations are closed …

… An initial analysis found the presence of heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, copper and calcium, at varied levels. But Wolk said average readings since the plume past are all back to normal.

Still, McGrath is concerned, telling Hickenlooper that long-term monitoring had not yet been established.

“I’m afraid you’re getting ahead of us to be able to say we have the data that supports the decision. I’m just not comfortable,” McGrath told the governor. “My toxicologists haven’t called me.”

Hickenlooper shot back, pointing to the EPA’s delays over the course of the incident.

“You guys don’t call for days anyway,” Hickenlooper said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. There’s been delay in communication in terms of when information on this went out. The whole thing has been a couple days late.”

OMG – what an asshole!

There was McGrath telling the governor that the EPA is not comfortable saying the river is back to normal. And Frackenlooper with CDPHE’s Larry Wolk beside him like Igor bullied him and said screw the data because you were late in telling us about the spill. That doesn’t even make any sense.

Of course we all know what happened next. Frackenlooper stomped defiantly through the Durango town square, trailed by Igor, and drank from the river of denial — spiked with plenty of Igor’s iodine tablets.

Gov. John Hickenlooper drops purification tablets into a bottle filled with Animas River water to kill any giardia. Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald

Gov. John Hickenlooper drops purification tablets into a bottle filled with Animas River water to kill any giardia. [Photo by Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald]

Hickenlooper drinks Animas River water to make a point
Hickenlooper drinks from river: ‘If that shows that Durango is open for business, I’m happy to help’

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday drank a hearty gulp of the Animas River in an effort to highlight that the river has returned to pre-contamination conditions.

The governor and his health department director, however, cautioned that residents should not be freely drinking from the river, because the water was unsafe for consumption even before the Environmental Protection Agency released an estimated 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into it.

But the drinking exercise indicated that state officials are more than confident that the river does not pose a toxic risk to humans, as they publicly stated on Tuesday.

“Am I willing to go out there and demonstrate that we’re back to normal?” Hickenlooper asked out loud after The Durango Herald raised the idea with the governor. “Certainly. I’m happy to do that. I’m dead serious.”

“The Durango Herald raised the idea with the governor.” In other words, reporter Marcus, after witnessing the governor go all Frackenlooper on McGrath, challenged him to drink river water. He drank it in front of the camera to defy the EPA before McCarthy showed her face in town. How could she dare say the Animas River was unsafe when the governor himself had just swigged the swill?

Moments later Hickenlooper was presented with an iodine tablet, offered to him at the request of Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, who was traveling with the governor in Durango. The iodine tablet was used to kill possible presence of giardia and E. coli. After waiting for 30 minutes for the iodine tablet take effect, the governor walked from the Herald offices to Iris Park, the governor – in dress boots – to the banks of the Animas.

With bottle in hand, Hickenlooper slowly began to drink. After his sips, he raised the bottle in victory. Twenty-four hours later, the governor called the Herald to say he was in good health.

“If that shows that Durango is open for business, I’m happy to help,” Hickenlooper said.

The act sets up a battle between the governor and the EPA over when to recommend reopening the river. EPA officials have been at odds with the governor, going as far as to ask him to silence remarks on the health of the river and to stop pushing to reopen it. Hickenlooper, however, called the EPA’s concerns “nonsense” and pointed out that businesses are closed that rely on the river to drive operations, such as the rafting industry.

At a news conference in Durango on Wednesday, EPA chief Gina McCarthy confirmed that the EPA’s own tests show that the water had returned to pre-event conditions. Initial tests taken early on had shown spikes in heavy metals and a plummet in the pH level. But those levels had returned to normal.

McCarthy would not say when the EPA might recommend reopening the river, which ultimately rests in the hands of La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith, who said on Tuesday that he would not consider reopening it until at least Sunday. It irked Hickenlooper that McCarthy would not be pushing to reopen the river because both state and federal tests show that conditions are back to a state they were in before the spillage.

“I cannot give you exact dates on when things will happen because we’re going to let the testing and the science drive those decisions …” McCarthy said. “It’s been a while, and we have the data that looks good, but we’re going to allow those decisions to be made collaboratively” …

McCarthy should’ve stuck to her guns and opted for a showdown at Rotary Park. Instead they turned it into a river of denial drinking contest.

At least The Durango Herald made a point of including McCarthy’s remarks that further qualified her statement about “pre-event conditions.” I’ll give her one point for truthiness.

On a serious note, I hope Shaun McGrath doesn’t lose his job over that whole kerfuffle with the governor. Speaking truth to power is frowned upon in this state. Punishment is often the axe — swift and cruel.

So there it is. Frackenlooper and Igor bullied the EPA into lying about the “pre-event conditions” of the Animas River. There is no data to back it up. McCarthy gave them the sound bite they demanded and then she couched it in the facts.

Frackenlooper and Igor are hell bent on upholding the Colorado myth that environmental degradation and devastation can co-exist with outdoor recreation and tourism, when we all know this “event” is just more proof they’re wrong. Once again they put human health and safety at risk to protect Colorado’s PR image. These guys are in charge of public health and safety.

Know your enemies.

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