'New Mexico has actively sought to avoid litigation, but the state's efforts to move forward in a productive manner outside of the courtroom have been met with resistance at every turn' - NMED letter to EPA
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
The New Mexico Environment Department says it intends to sue the federal government, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Colorado, over the the Gold King Mine spill last August that sent 3 million gallons of toxic mine sludge and yellow water down the Animas Rier and into New Mexico.
The NMED sent notice of intent to sue Thursday. The agency said it will also sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the EPA contractor that caused the spill, and the owner of the mine. The state said it wants the feds, Colorado and others to completely clean up the remnants of the spill and to stop releasing contaminated water from the Gold King and the Sunnyside mines north of Durango into the Animas River.
“New Mexico has actively sought to avoid litigation, but the state’s efforts to move forward in a productive manner outside of the courtroom have been met with resistance at every turn,” the NMED said in a letter to the EPA and the others likely defendants. The letter noted that NMRD Secretary Ryan Flynn has gone to Washington, D.C., twice over the past three months to get the EPA’s support for an independent monitoring plan for the entire watershed affected by the Aug. 5, 2015, blowout at the Gold King.
“Rather than agreeing to work with the downstream communities who were not responsible for the blowout and support an independent monitoring plan for the entire watershed, EPA has chosen to move forward with the State of 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,” NMED’s letter said.
The spill occurred when employees of an EPA contractor, Environmental Restoration LLC, breached a dam holding back a tailing pond at the Gold King south of Silverton, Colo. That sent a surge of 3 million gallons of yellowish, contaminated sludge and wastewater down the Animas and San Juan rivers, into New Mexico, Utah and then into Lake Powell. The water contained heavy metals, including cadmium and lead.
New Mexico said it will allege that the EPA and others violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and that heavy metals from the spill remain in the riverbed.
“What is already apparent is that heavy metals from the highly acidic discharge—such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper, mercury and zinc—have fallen out and settled into the riverbeds creating continuing sources for future impacts and discharges of hazardous materials,” NMED’s letter said. “Recent sampling of the Animas and San Juan Rivers’ surface waters an sediments has revealed the presence of many, if not all, of these wastes.”
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