After a powerful lobbyist intervenes, EPA Reverses Stance on polluting Texas county's water
Published: March 20, 2013
When Goliad residents asked in August to attend a meeting between the EPA, Texas officials and Uranium Energy, Podesta wrote to Perciasepe that "we think it is odd to include the Groundwater District in the meeting."
Dohmann did meet with EPA officials that August in Dallas, but he found Coleman evasive and said the agency spent very little time reviewing the groundwater test data the Groundwater District had provided them.
"We could just tell that we were going through the motions, and that it had moved from a technical evaluation to a political decision," Dohmann said.
In interviews, Coleman and other EPA officials firmly rejected the notion that politics ever trumped science in considering the exemption. The revisions to Uranium Energy's plan reduced the risk to Goliad's water, making further modeling "not necessary," Coleman said.
In response to questions from ProPublica, Coleman sent a six-page document laying out how the scientific review process had quieted the EPA's original concerns.
But several experts who reviewed the document said it raised additional questions.
As one part of the review process, Uranium Energy conducted a so-called pump test to see if contaminants could migrate vertically between geologic layers or through the more than 1,000 old test wells that dotted the landscape.
The results were negative, but it's typical to run larger numbers of tests rather than just one, said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "Probably more problematic is whether a single test is representative of the problem at hand," he said.
The document summarizing the EPA's review also cited Uranium Energy's data on the underground flow of contaminants, minus the "anomalous" data it had allowed the company to throw out.
But Dohmann said data collected by his agency was consistent with the discarded data, showing that groundwater at the mine site could move in several directions.
When sent a detailed list of additional questions to clarify the data and scientific basis for their decision, the EPA deferred to the Department of Justice, which declined to comment because of the pending litigation.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, after soliciting and receiving detailed questions from ProPublica, also declined to explain the scientific rationale for their approval, citing a pending lawsuit by Goliad residents against the agency.
On Dec. 4, the EPA issued the aquifer exemption to Uranium Energy. Days later, Podesta sent an appreciative email to Perciasepe.
"Thanks again for your leadership," she wrote. "We greatly appreciate all the time you invested in this project and hope it is the start of a closer working relationship between the industry and the agency."