House panel chairman: Gold King mine was breached on purpose

Mine Waste Leak-New Mexico
FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2015 file photo, water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway about a quarter mile downstream from the mine outside Silverton, Colo. New Mexico officials said Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 that they plan to sue the federal government and the owners of two Colorado mines that were the source of a massive spill last year that contaminated rivers in three Western states. An EPA cleanup crew accidentally triggered the spill in August at the inactive Gold King mine near Silverton, Colo.(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

(AP) The Republican leader of a congressional panel investigating a 3-million-gallon spill of toxic wastewater from an inactive Colorado gold mine says the mine was purposely breached by a government cleanup team.

Tuesday’s assertion by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop appears to contradict claims by the Obama administration that the cleanup team was doing only preparatory work at the site.

Bishop cited an email in which an Interior Department official said the spill occurred while the cleanup team was removing a “plug” blocking the mine’s entrance and holding back the wastewater.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in response she stands by her earlier statements that the spill was an accident.

The wastewater fouled downstream rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah and forced the shutdown of public water supplies.

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