April 06, 2016

Udall, Heinrich, Luján Welcome Proposal to Add ‘Superfund' Designation for Gold King Mine Area

Reiterate need to compensate New Mexicans harmed by Animas River spill, reform outdated mining laws

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján welcomed the news that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) is proposing to add the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colorado's San Juan County - home to the Gold King Mine - to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. The lawmakers have pressed the EPA to support designating the Gold King Mine as a Superfund site since a blowout last August released toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers in New Mexico and Colorado. The three also are backing legislation in the Senate and House to clean up similar abandoned mines across the West.

The Bonita Peak area is one of eight hazardous waste sites that the EPA today proposed adding to the NPL, a critical step toward Superfund designation. The EPA will decide whether to make a final listing after a public comment period. The designation would give the EPA the additional authority beyond emergency response actions needed to clean up hazardous substance releases at the mine site. Under Superfund law, only sites on the NPL are eligible to receive federal funding for long-term, permanent cleanup. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions against potentially responsible parties and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding. 

"The Gold King Mine area should have been approved as a Superfund cleanup site long before this spill. Tragically, it took millions of gallons of toxic wastewater spilling into three states and the Navajo Nation for local communities and the EPA to come together and begin Superfund cleanup. Superfund status will expedite cleanup at the mine by providing more funding. But many farmers, ranchers and families in Northwest New Mexico are still recovering from the spill, and I'll continue pushing to ensure they receive the compensation they're owed," Udall said. "Additionally, there are still thousands of abandoned mines like Gold King scattered across the West - ticking time bombs leaking toxins into our water everyday. The Superfund program isn't enough to clean up this mess - and taxpayers shouldn't be the only ones left to foot the bill. I believe the polluter should pay, and that means mining companies must contribute as well. We need to reform the outdated and inadequate 1872 mining law so hardrock mining companies pay their fair share, fund cleanup and help prevent future spills. Corporations shouldn't continue to reap millions in royalty-free profits while New Mexicans and taxpayers suffer the toxic consequences."

"Designating the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes the Gold King Mine, as a Superfund site will allow the EPA and the state of Colorado to work on long-term and robust cleanup that will directly benefit New Mexico communities downstream. But we can't stop there," Heinrich said. "We must also overhaul our nation's hardrock mining policies to clean up the hundreds of thousands of similarly contaminated abandon mines across the West and Indian Country that are leaking toxins into our watersheds. Hardrock mining companies shouldn't be allowed to mine publicly-owned minerals for free. They should be required to pay reasonable royalties and fees to create a dedicated funding stream for cleaning up toxic mine waste. We can't wait for more disasters to strike. Our nation owes it to these communities to clean up these sites once and for all to protect our land, water, and livelihoods. "

"The Gold King Mine spill is a painful reminder of the legacy of hard rock mining in the West that to this very day has not been fully addressed," Luján said. "Designating this area as a Superfund cleanup site will provide much-needed funding that will expedite the cleanup of the mine, but it cannot reverse the damage that has been caused by the spill. That is why it is imperative that the EPA accelerate and prioritize making our people, our businesses, and our state, local and tribal governments whole. And it is critical that Congress acts to reform our outdated mining laws that leave the American people to bear the brunt for the cost of addressing thousands of abandoned mines that contain toxic materials."

Udall, Heinrich, and Luján have introduced legislation in the Senate and House in response to the Gold King Mine spill. The lawmakers' legislation requires the EPA to compensate those who were impacted by the spill and continue to monitor water quality from the mine, which had been leaking contamination even before the spill. Udall and Heinrich have also introduced a bill to reform the nation's antiquated mining laws - which date back to 1872 - and ensure mining companies pay royalties for the privilege of extracting mineral resources from public lands. The royalty - similar to that paid by oil and gas and coal companies - would help pay for abandoned mine cleanup. Luján is backing similar legislation that has been introduced in the House.