New Mexico to sue EPA over Gold King Mine spill

January 15, 2016

New Mexico announced plans to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Colorado and owners of inactive mines after the agency-triggered Gold King disaster that worsened contamination of the Animas River through three states.

The Denver Post reported that lead levels in municipal water supplies continue to spike after storms, New Mexico's chief environmental official, Ryan Flynn, said after filing notices of intent to sue. That's one of many longterm effects of the Aug. 5 blowout at the Gold King Mine, above Silverton in southwestern Colorado, which unleased a 3 million-gallon deluge of acid, heavy metals-laden runoff, Flynn said.

He accused EPA officials of shirking their duties for meaningful support and collaboration. "We have no choice but to turn to the justice system to hold EPA accountable to New Mexicans."

Flynn added that his state was billed nearly $20,000 when it asked Colorado natural resources officials to provide information, invoking the Freedom of Information Act and did not receive those records.

"We'd just like to get a long-term monitoring plan in place and get some information so that we are able to monitor and analyze the effects," said Flynn, a cabinet secretary who runs the New Mexico Environment Department, in an interview.

"All the sediment that's been left behind, and the metals in that sediment, are having an impact on our water systems. We're seeing the levels of lead, in particular, go above the EPA safe drinking water limits ... Each time we've had a stormwater even, we've seen a spike."

EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham declined to address New Mexico's notice to sue. However, "the EPA is working closely with the states to develop a long-term monitoring plan to evaluate potential environmental impacts from the spill," Grantham said.

"The EPA is also reimbursing state and local agencies for response-related costs associated with the spill. We will carefully review the information provided by the New Mexico Environment Department and respond accordingly."

Colorado Department of Natural Resources officials declined to comment on the threatened lawsuit.

A Dec. 9 bill sent to New Mexico from Colorado Parks and Wildlife seeks $19,520 for staff work used to prepare "responsive documents."

New Mexico filed the notices of its intent to sue with the EPA, Colorado and owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside mines, officials said. It will file a lawsuit within 90 days to compel action if the EPA does not begin to clean up affected areas and commit to long-term monitoring and research on spill impacts, Flynn said.

"From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business," he said. "The EPA caused an unprecedented disaster that may affect our state for years to come. They must take responsibility."


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