Federal Relations

New Mexico will sue EPA for polluting river with mine waste

New Mexico will sue the EPA for accidentally unleashing three million gallons of mine wastewater into state waters and contaminating drinking water for thousands of people.

“From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” Ryan Flynn, the New Mexico Environment Department’s cabinet secretary, said in a statement Thursday. “The EPA caused an unprecedented disaster that may affect our state for years to come; they must take responsibility.”

New Mexico officials filed their intent to sue the EPA and the two owners of the Colorado mines from which mine waste poured into the Animas River. Animas is a tributary of the larger San Juan River. In its filing, New Mexico claims the EPA is working with Colorado “to support its own woefully inadequate monitoring plan, which fails to address critical environmental and public health issues, and only serves to limit liability.”

State officials have been arguing from the beginning EPA was holding back information and not moving quickly enough to inform states about the extent of the orange mine waste plume that came from Gold King Mine in August. Native tribes have also slammed EPA for its handling of spill liability waivers and allegedly giving tribal members tainted water shipments.

“Because EPA headquarters continues to shirk their duties formeaningful support and collaboration, we have no choice but to turnto the justice system to hold EPA accountable to New Mexicans,” Flynn said.

In August, EPA workers accidentally caused a blowout at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo. The blowout unleashed three million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River, which eventually made its way into the San Juan River and contaminated water acrossthree states.

The EPA took responsibility for the spill, but an internal report on the incident claimed the blowout would have occurred even if agency contractors had not opened the mine. A later Department of the Interior review, however, contradicted EPA’s report and said a blowout could have been avoided had workers taken proper precautions.

Colorado officials have also called out EPA for allegedly lying in its account of the state’s role in the opening of the Gold King Mine. Colorado’s top mine regulator wrote that EPA’s “conclusions into the events surrounding the discharge were not consistent with our staff’s involvement and we felt it important to make sure the investigators were aware of our perspective.”

Flynn says New Mexico has its own investigation of thespill and has developed a plan in conjunction with other federal agencies about how to implement a water quality monitoring plan. Flynn, however, slammed the EPA for not supporting the state’s plan and claiming water quality has returned to pre-spill levels.

The state argues that while testing shows water quality has gotten better, any sort of storm could kick up mine waste settled on the bottom of the rivers.

Despite state and congressional investigations into the issue, the EPA has not launched a criminal investigation into the minespill and has been loathe to release details about the blowout and the contracting company involved.

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