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Special Report: EPA Investigation

Updated: Wednesday, May 14 2014, 08:08 PM EDT
Special Report: EPA Investigation story image
There are concerns that a broad investigation into the EPA could jeopardize efforts to clean up a toxic superfund site in south Asheville.

Just days after grilling the EPA on its handling of the CTS site, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC  11) told us he would call for hearings on superfund sites nationwide.  But that’s not sitting well with some residents living the CTS’ shadow.  Rep. Meadows says he still wants local hearings into CTS.  But Dot Rice, who’s been at the center of the CTS fight for decades, says she’ll believe it when she sees it.

A scathing report recently issued by the USEPA’s Office of Inspector General shows the culture within the EPA may be just as toxic as the CTS Superfund site. Congressman Tim Walberg stated, "The atmosphere, environment around the EPA is polluted."

Last Wednesday, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee accused top EPA officials of fraud, waste and abuse of power. Congressman Mark Meadows took the opportunity to grill them about how they handled the CTS site. Meadows reminded EPA officials, "We have a Superfund site that's not being cleaned up."

Last November, News 13 aired "Buried Secrets", a 68 minute long investigation exposing missteps in how the EPA handled the CTS case, including how the EPA had tested for chemicals on Dot Rice’s property in 1990 without her permission. Meadows demanded answers from Bob Perciasepe, EPA’s Deputy Administrator. Meadows questioned him asking, "Yes or no? Is it proper to go onto somebody's property without their permission?” Perciasepe responded, "I don't know."

WLOS obtained documents showing EPA’s Region 4 office in Atlanta had found toxic chemicals in Dot Rice's spring back in 1990. She and other residents, who relied upon that spring for their main source of drinking water, had no idea it was toxic until 1999, when state testing found their water highly contaminated with the carcinogenic chemical trichloroethylene, or “TCE”.

Meadows questioned Perciasepe during the hearing, "Do you think it was proper, when they found that, that they did not tell her for over 9 years that there was toxic stuff on her property? Yes or no? Would you want to be informed if there was toxic stuff on your property? Would you want to be informed by the EPA that it was there?" Perciasepe responded apprehensively, "Yes."

News 13 first told Meadows about critical EPA documents we had uncovered in June of 2013. In light of the incriminating nature of the documents, residents had become very concerned. In June, investigative reporter Mike Mason asked Meadows, "These people are requesting Congressional Hearings, what are you doing to help?" Meadows asserted, "We're willing to hold Congressional Hearings."

On Tuesday, Meadows told us he won't be calling for Congressional Hearings on CTS after all. Instead, he plans to request hearings examining how the EPA may have mishandled various Superfund sites throughout the country. Meadows told us, "A follow up hearing on a broader scope, of not just CTS, but of why these sites not getting cleaned up."

Dot Rice is disappointed and asked us to relay a message to Meadows. News 13 interviewed Dot over the weekend and then uploaded her questions on to an iPad. We shared her questions with Meadows during our interview with him. Dot Rice said, "EPA and politicians that say they're going to do something and never get nothing done, if it wasn't an election year I'm not so sure anything would be started now."

Congressman Meadows quickly responded, "We've advanced it more than it's ever been advanced and, for me, it's all about trying to make sure that we get something done."

Last December, Congressman Patrick McHenry told us he's also pushing for accountability, "We need to make sure we have the right investigation from the Office of Inspector General over the EPA."

But News 13 found McHenry failed to attend last week's hearing. McHenry is one of 40 members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, or OGR. The OGR serves as Congress' chief investigative and oversight committee .McHenry's office tells us he was busy meeting with constituents and working on legislative issues.

McHenry did send us the statement he had intended to read at the hearing. In it he refers to the Office of Inspector General's on-going investigation surrounding the CTS site. McHenry states, in part, this has:  "Caused many of our constituents to suffer horrible illness including cancer.... I look forward to getting to the bottom of these claims and ensuring there's no interference into this important investigation."

Dot Rice is disappointed McHenry didn’t attend the hearing and utilize that opportunity to hold EPA officials accountable and demand answers regarding the CTS site. Dot now hopes the EPA’s investigation into CTS doesn't turn in to a game of politics where residents could easily end up on the losing end. She sighs and says, "I am so afraid that somebody else is going to get sick in it, it's devastating to live like this it really is."

After our interview with Meadows, he told us he had just learned the Oversight Committee may approve a CTS hearing, after all. It would be a "field hearing" held in Buncombe County and would focus specifically on how the EPA handled the CTS site. When we find out more about this we'll let you know.Special Report: EPA Investigation
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