Photos of the bright-orange colored Animas River in southwestern Colorado made international headlines in August after three million gallons of toxic mining sludge poured into it. Contractors working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released the waste while attempting to clean up the site, abandoned by its original owners decades ago.
But now, three months later, the owner of the Gold King Mine told the Durango Herald that it’s he who feels “victimized” by the EPA. Todd Hemmis took the comparison even further, comparing the EPA’s actions to rape.
“They’ve been so thoroughly arrogant, incompetent, and frankly criminal in their outlook, that it’s kind of like dealing with the mafia…It is very much an act of rape,” he said. “I don’t mean to denigrate women who’ve gone through it, and for that matter, some men, but it’s been such an ugly penetrative act on an unwilling victim.”
And he added that the EPA’s tactics to work with him were “the same cooperation the Nazis expected from the people getting off the trains” and that the agency was “very reminiscent of what you’d see in early 1940s in Europe.”
Many activists note that comparisons of everyday affairs to rape are hurtful to victims. As Katie Reyzis with the Voices against Violence Project explains:
“Humor that desensitizes the public perception of violence — whether it’s rape, genocide, or something else along these lines — is harmful not only to individuals who may have been affected in the audience, but to the general cultural norm that accepts such material.”
And as U.K. blogger Tilly Grove of the Pesky Feminist put it more bluntly: “Comparing things that aren’t rape to rape contributes to a culture that normalises rape, and you should stop.”
Rape is a serious problem in the United States today. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 17.7 million American women and 2.78 million men “have been victims of attempted or completed rape.”
Using inappropriate metaphors isn’t the only thing that Hennis got wrong. In the same interview, he also accused the EPA of deliberately causing the Gold King spill, but failed to note that hardrock mining is notoriously under-regulated industry with an estimated legacy of half a million abandoned mines across the country. The primary law governing mining on public lands was written in 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant was president, and allows mining companies to pay no royalties to American taxpayers despite the high cost of mine cleanup.
“While EPA triggered the disaster, the true culprit is lax federal laws that allow mining companies to pollute public waterways with impunity. The antiquated 1872 mining law must be reformed to protect surface and groundwater quality,” New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance said in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress in August.
An independent analysis of the Gold King Mine spill found that it was the result of a host of events going back several decades, including significant modifications to the landscape from several hardrock mines. The analysis also noted that “The conditions and actions that led to the Gold King Mine incident are not isolated or unique, and in fact are surprisingly prevalent.”
While Hennis uses violent metaphors and claims to be a “victim” it is also noteworthy that he bought the abandoned mine planning to turn a profit.
Jessica Goad is the Advocacy Director at the Center for Western Priorities. Nicole Gentile is the Director of Campaigns for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow them on Twitter at @jessica_goad and @nicolegentile.