May 09, 2017

N.M. Delegation Urges EPA To Prioritize Gold King Mine Cleanup

WASHINGTON – In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham urged the EPA to fulfill the directive in the omnibus bill passed last week for Gold King Mine cleanup efforts. The bill provides the EPA $4 million to implement a long-term water monitoring plan for areas impacted by the Gold King Mine spill.

The delegation asked that the EPA use these funds to support the Long-Term Monitoring Plan prepared by the State of New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team, writing in the letter, “In the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies section of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, signed into law by President Trump on May 5, 2017, $4 million is provided to the EPA for a long-term water quality monitoring program in areas affected by the Gold King Mine spill, as authorized by the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2017, with direction that EPA work with affected states and tribes to implement the program. We would like the EPA to use these funds to support the Long-Term Monitoring Plan prepared by the State of New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team.”

In addition, the delegation asked for the EPA to reconsider compensating the victims of the spill for any losses impacting health, property, business and personal finances. “The Gold King Mine spill placed a heavy burden on states, tribes, local governments, and communities and hurt businesses, farmers, and ranchers throughout the region. However, on January 13, 2017, the former Administrator of the EPA and the Department of Justice issued a decision that the EPA is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill. This decision represents a broken promise from the EPA that it would fully address this environmental disaster. While the agency has taken steps to clean up the mine, no farmer has received a dime of compensation, and distrust in the government has deepened,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter is available here and below.

May 8, 2017

Hon. Scott Pruitt
Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460

Dear Mr. Administrator:

On August 5, 2015, three million gallons of acid mine drainage containing sediment, heavy metals, and other contaminants were released into Cement Creek by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) team investigating contamination at the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colorado. This contaminated water flowed down the Animas River into the San Juan River, resulting in water use restrictions and emergency responses in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the Southern Ute reservation, and the Navajo Nation.

The Gold King Mine spill placed a heavy burden on states, tribes, local governments, and communities and hurt businesses, farmers, and ranchers throughout the region. However, on January 13, 2017, the former Administrator of the EPA and the Department of Justice issued a decision that the EPA is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill. This decision represents a broken promise from the EPA that it would fully address this environmental disaster. While the agency has taken steps to clean up the mine, no farmer has received a dime of compensation, and distrust in the government has deepened.

In the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies section of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, signed into law by President Trump on May 5, 2017, $4 million is provided to the EPA for a long-term water quality monitoring program in areas affected by the Gold King Mine spill, as authorized by the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2017, with direction that EPA work with affected states and tribes to implement the program. We would like the EPA to use these funds to support the Long-Term Monitoring Plan prepared by the State of New Mexico’s Long-Term Impact Review Team. Moreover, the appropriations report states:

EPA should further explore all legal and financial recourses that could compensate individuals for such damages and, if available, should ensure that recourses will be extended to individuals located in all areas impacted by the spill in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and the Navajo Nation. The Agency is required to report to the Committees within 60 days of enactment of this Act on the details and timeline for such efforts, including plans for stakeholder engagement in all areas affected by the spill.

We ask that you fulfill this congressional directive as soon as possible. Our offices have requested a meeting with you and we stand ready to work with you to explore all compensation recourses available for impacted stakeholders. The people of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation have already waited far too long for the EPA to keep its promise and compensate them for the harm caused.

If your staff has questions about this provision, please contact Melissa Zimmerman of the minority Senate Appropriations Committee staff of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Tom Udall
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
U.S. Representative Steve Pearce
U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján
U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham