Opinion: Let latest mining disaster be our wakeup call | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Let latest mining disaster be our wakeup call

While conspiracy theorists have been stockpiling ammunition and burying guns in their backyards to prepare for the much anticipated Obama gun-grab and military takeover, it’s becoming clear to the deluded that Obama’s intentions are even more sinister than anyone could have imagined.

Now dubbed the “Environmental Pollution Agency” by conservatives, the EPA is receiving full blame for the millions of gallons of toxic mining waste flowing through Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. At a town meeting in Durango, the disaster was called an act of government-sponsored terrorism, according to Colorado Peak Politics.

Anyone who’s spent time in Colorado’s mountains is familiar with the rainbow-colored landscapes created by peacock blue settling ponds and red and yellow mine tailings lining our streams or heaped in golden mounds throughout our mountains. Tourists photograph our hazardous waste sites as things of beauty.

As a Colorado native, it’s easy for me to see how immune we’ve become to it all. We figure it must be no big deal, or someone would surely be doing something about it. On the rare occasions that we’re warned to stay away from toxic water and land, we simply take our tents or fishing poles to the next closest site.

As I followed the news of sludgy, yellow wastewater making its way down the Animas River toward Durango last weekend, I was reminded of a fishing trip near Leadville 25 years ago. It was one of those times when the iconic “We heart Leadville” message, painted on a concrete wall at the edge of town, was marred with spray paint. “Leadville” had become “Deadville.”

Despite the sign, the beauty and wildness of the place have always made people want to be there fishing, camping or exploring. Like many places in the Colorado mountains, this historic mining area affords opportunities for the most cherished vacation memories as long as we know not to drink the water or eat the fish.

The creeks where I fished that weekend appeared as pristine as they were centuries before humans mined the surrounding mountains. The fact that mining waste like mercury and arsenic had left the fish too toxic for human consumption didn’t really matter since I didn’t anticipate actually catching any fish.

Mining waste has been dumped into Colorado’s water since the first mines were built here 150 years ago. Since then, some of the mines have been plugged with the idea that poisonous mining byproducts will be confined underground. The waste from some has slowly seeped into aquifers and streams for decades.

Referring to itself as “Colorado’s conservative bully pulpit,” Colorado Peak Politics has said “environmental groups are being quiet as church mice since the government-caused disaster, waiting for their Democratic overlords to perfect and instruct on the necessary spin and talking points.”

It’s not that environmentalists and Democrats are ignoring the issue. It’s just that we’re looking for real solutions rather than attempting to blame the Obama administration for a calamity that’s been 150 years in the making. The Gold King Mine disaster was not an accident nor an attack by our government.

There are 55,000 abandoned mines in the western United States. No one knows how many of them are leaking hazardous waste into our water supplies or holding millions of gallons of polluted water behind precarious barriers. It takes just a short drive from Grand Junction through Gateway Canyon toward Uravan to see some of the 1,500 unreclaimed uranium mines in the area, many of which are visibly eroding radioactive waste into the Dolores River.

The only spin in this comes from conservative groups set on increasing divisions and hindering progress. As I’m writing this, there’s still no word from conspiracy theorists about how the EPA put 3 million gallons of mining waste into an abandoned mine in order to flood the Animas River. I have no doubt, though, that one is coming.

We have an opportunity to treat the Gold King Mine disaster as a wakeup call. We can hold our elected leaders accountable and work together to create a cleaner, healthier environment. The other option is to embrace conspiracy theories and simply wait for the next disaster.

A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at gjrobyn@gmail.com.

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