The chairman of the House Science Committee said Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency’s actions in causing a toxic mine spill that fouled rivers in three Western states were “inexcusable.”

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, vowed to hold the agency accountable for its “negligence” in causing the Aug. 5 spill near Silverton, Colorado, and for its “lack of transparency” afterward. The spill tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with heavy metals.

Smith says the EPA took more than 24 hours to inform the public about the seriousness of the spill and initially underestimated the amount of rust-colored sludge released from the inactive Gold King Mine. A cleanup team doing excavation work triggered the release of 3 million gallons of poisoned water that affected drinking water in the three states and the Navajo Nation, as well as fishing, boating and other recreational activities. The spill also crippled tourism in the area.

Smith said he was disappointed that EPA chief Gina McCarthy declined to attend a hearing Wednesday on the spill, saying: “Perhaps she doesn’t have good answers.”

EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus, who has overseen the response to the spill, called it “a tragic and unfortunate incident” and said the EPA “has taken responsibility to ensure that it is cleaned up appropriately.” The EPA has spent about $8 million on the cleanup so far, Stanislaus said.

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