Criminal investigations into the Environmental Protection Agency’s disastrous handling of its Gold King Mine spill are under way. This is a laudable step toward accountability for the agency, which for one year has avoided accountability for conduct that would in all likelihood have resulted in criminal prosecution had the acts been performed by private parties.

One year ago, a backhoe operator working for the EPA had an accident that poured 3 million gallons of toxic water into Colorado’s Animas River, which pollution tests showed to have reached “‘scary’ levels of toxicity.”

The tests showed “arsenic peaked at 300 times the normal level; lead was 12,000 times higher than normal; mercury and beryllium, respectively, reached nearly 10 times and 33 times the EPA’s acceptable levels,” as The Heritage Foundation noted in a report.

No one at the EPA has been held accountable, despite the fact that private parties were convicted of “criminal negligence” when a backhoe accident spilled a comparably insignificant “1,000 to 1,500 gallons of oil” into nearby waters, and when a company discharged only natural elements such as “rock, sand, soil [or] stone” into nearby streams.

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