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Gold King Mine Owner Fears EPA’s ‘Limitless Legal Budget’

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials forced Gold King Mine owner Todd Hennis to give them access to his property, but he won’t sue the government for fear of its “limitless legal budget.”

The EPA forced Hennis to sign a “Consent for Access to Property” March 4, 2016, which gives the agency access to his land through the end of 2016, The Durango Herald reported Tuesday.

“I was forced to sign this agreement, under threat of federal court action,” Hennis told the Herald. “The EPA has a limitless legal budget, so there is effectively no way a private citizen … can effectively fight the seizure of one’s private land.”

Hennis also claimed he was forced to give EPA access to his property in 2014 when officials first intervened at the site in order to stop toxic wastes leaking from the mine.

An EPA crew intentionally breached the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, 2015, unleashing 880,000 pounds of toxic metals into drinking water for three states and the Navajo Nation and turned a major Western river bright yellow.

Consequently, the nearby town of Silverton reversed decades-long opposition to overreaching government involvement and requested the area be designated a federal superfund site — which would give EPA even more access and additional funding to combat mine waste discharge in the region.

That designation comes even though the EPA has deemed the river safe, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported.

Becoming a superfund site doesn’t mean contaminants will be quickly removed. The EPA studies sites for an average of six years before any cleaning action is taken. The EPA also relied on the law behind superfunds to coerce Hennis into giving the agency access to his property.

“While the EPA’s goal is always to achieve consensual access to property,” the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) “provides the agency with significant legal authorities to obtain access in the event a property owner is unwilling to consent access,” EPA Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath wrote in a March 25 letter to Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

“The EPA informed Mr. Hennis of these authorities, including CERCLA’s penalty provisions, and discussed these authorities at length with Mr. Hennis and his attorney,” the letter said. “The EPA has never sought civil penalties from Mr. Hennis or his companies.”

CERCLA also allows the EPA to require private parties responsible for environmental contamination to fund superfund cleanups. The agency did not respond to a DCNF request asking if Hennis could be forced to pay.

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