One of the problems with sharing internet memes created by lonely bloggers from their parent’s basement is that by and large, they are complete bullshit. Take this highly misleading photo that was shared by Sarah Palin on her facebook page, slamming the Environmental Protection Agency for polluting several rivers in Colorado with toxic mining waste water:
The photo was created by a the author of an extreme right wing blog named ‘Journal of a Madman‘, and is predictably completely misleading and disingenuous.
The truth is, the Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the leak, but not because it intentionally dumped the sludge into the rivers. According to the New York Times, a team of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers accidentally caused the spill last week during an inspection of an abandoned mine near the town of Silverton in southwestern Colorado. They were there to examine previously existing wastewater seepage, and “inadvertently breached the wall of a mine tunnel, unleashing a flow of the orange-tinged slurry that cascaded into Cement Creek and then into the Animas River downstream.”
An almighty cock up for sure, but far from the EPA being responsible for making water dirty in general, as the photo would indicate. The EPA has taken full responsibility for the disaster, with Administrator Gina McCarthy telling the AP:
It is really a tragic and very unfortunate incident, and EPA is taking responsibility to ensure that that spill is cleaned up. I am absolutely, deeply sorry that this ever happened.
While Palin and other extreme anti-science, anti-environmentalists have gleefully leapt on the tragedy to smear the government and federal environmental regulation in general, the reality is – as it always is with right wing fanatics – the exact opposite. Abandoned mines and their toxic effect on the environment in Colorado is a huge problem precisely because of lack of state and federal inspections. According to the Denver Post:
The EPA has calculated that 40 percent of river headwaters in the West are impaired by acid mine drainage. In Colorado, state health officials Thursday determined that discharges from the 230 old mines have contaminated 1,645 miles of rivers and streams.
But there is no state or federal program for systematically inspecting those mines, tucked away in high mountains, the hangover from mining booms and busts that made Colorado a state.
Colorado mining regulators say that’s because culprits at most sites have vanished.
Furthermore, this extreme lack of regulation and limited government oversight has meant disasters are virtually guaranteed to happen. Continues the report:
State mining regulators often don’t discover the old mine discharges until state health responders are called to test water after residents report bright colors or dead fish.
While state mining officials have visited all 230 sites, Bruce Stover, director of abandoned mine lands reclamation, emphasized limits on what Colorado can do to launch cleanups. Liability risks and weak laws are to blame, he said.
Of course Palin and her conservative crusaders won’t ever mention the fact that government is the only thing capable of preventing these accidents from happening and stepping in to ensure the safety of those citizens who rely on the water. Instead, they spread dishonest memes that imply government is to blame for the consequences of lack of regulation, and pile on genuine mistakes made by committed environmentalists who actually believe in trying to clean up toxicity caused by private companies.
We’ve seen this spectacularly stupid logic over and over again. When the banks destroyed the economy in 2008, conservatives tied themselves into knots attempting to blame the government. Banks, they argued, should regulate themselves without the interference from government. This conveniently omitted the glaringly obvious fact that banks had gone through an unprecedented era of mass deregulation, and by and large were regulating themselves.
And of course, abandoned mines leaking toxic sludge are totally capable of regulating themselves.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.