New Mexico sues EPA and mine owners over Gold King Mine spill

May 24, 2016

New Mexico has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a contractor for the agency and two mining companies for their roles in the mine spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado in 2015.

The state is seeking more than $136 million on the grounds that contaminants that spilled into the Animas River by the Aug. 5 mine spill are still lurking in New Mexico waters.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico Environment Department cite economic setbacks and environmental damage suffered by the state after more than 3 million gallons of toxic waste was dumped into the river, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The lawsuit names the EPA, its contractor Environmental Restoration, the Kinross Gold Corp and Sunnyside Gold Corp. In the lawsuit, the state is demanding reimbursement of $889,327 for short-term emergency-response costs paid by the state, more than $6 million to pay for long-term monitoring of the Animas and San Juan rivers and $130 million for lost income, taxes, fees and revenues suffered by the state because of the spill.

“The river only flows one way,” said Ryan Flynn, New Mexico environment secretary. “Trouble could still be coming for New Mexico. We have been pushing for a monitoring effort since October. Our concept is $6 million plus and five years of comprehensive monitoring that would give us a firm grasp of what is happening in the watershed. All EPA has said is we will give you is $465,000. That just doesn’t cut it.”

A crew hired by the EPA to work on the Gold King Mine, north of Silverton, CO inadvertently breached a containment wall, releasing water laced with heavy-metal contaminants. The toxic water spilled into the Animas River, which flows from Colorado into New Mexico and joins with the San Juan River near Farmington.

Flynn said efforts to resolve issues with the EPA outside of court have proved fruitless.

Among the major impasses between New Mexico and the EPA has been appropriate screening levels for contaminant metals such as lead.

Flynn said the EPA wants to impose a recreational standard that would be safe for hikers and campers, but New Mexico believes the much more strict residential standard should be applied because people live along the affected rivers in New Mexico.

The EPA does not comment on pending litigation filed by outside parties. But in a statement, the EPA said the agency takes responsibility for the mine spill cleanup and has been working to reimburse response costs and fund tribal and state monitoring plans as well as conduct its own monitoring of the Animas and San Juan rivers.

“EPA has funded about $1.3 million in reimbursements and monitoring cost for New Mexico to date,” the EPA statement said. “We continue to review documentation and applications for different entities in the state and will expedite payments. New Mexico has $7.1 million available in unallocated federal funds – of which $108,000 has already been approved – to fund real-time monitors in the river.”


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