The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not reconsider damage claims resulting from the Gold King Mine spill despite previous claims that it would review the review multimillion-dollar requests from the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation because both have sued the agency.
The Associated Press reported that in a written statement, the EPA said the law prevents it from reconsidering claims from anyone who has filed suit.
That could rule out a review of the two largest claims from the 2015 spill in southwestern Colorado, which the EPA inadvertently triggered.
More than 70 governments, businesses and individuals sought about $420 million in damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which is a way to settle without a lawsuit. The Navajos filed claims for $162 million and New Mexico for $130 million.
New Mexico and the Navajos sued the EPA for damages in federal court.
An EPA-led contractor crew triggered the release of 11.3 ML (3 million gal) of wastewater laden with heavy metals from the inactive Gold King Mine in August 2015 while doing excavation work at the site.
In January, near the end of the Obama administration, the EPA said federal law prohibited it from reimbursing any claims for property damage or personal injury, angering members of Congress and local officials.
President Donald Trump’s appointee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt, pledged during his confirmation hearing he would review that decision. On Friday, the second anniversary of the spill, he announced a new course.
“A new review is paramount to ensure that those who have, in fact, suffered losses have a fair opportunity to have their claims heard,” he said.
The EPA appears to have narrowed the scope of the review considerably.
“EPA won’t be able to reconsider a claim once the claimant has sued the U.S. in court, which the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation have done,” it said.
The EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund district and is reviewing options for a cleanup.