Democratic politicians have attacked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for refusing to pay $1.2 billion to those impacted by an agency-caused mine blowout that contaminated water across multiple states.
The EPA said Friday that federal law prevents them from paying out claims resulting from “discretionary” actions. The Federal Tort Claims Act allows federal agencies “without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action,” according to EPA.
That didn’t sit well with western state Democrats.
“We believe — regardless of the shameful legal interpretation of liability today or the outcome of any lawsuits in the future — that the federal government has a moral obligation to compensate farmers, small business owners and others injured for their losses,” New Mexico Sens. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Luján said in a joint statement.
“We will be pushing for legislative solutions as well, and we will not give up until the government makes this right,” the lawmakers said.
New Mexico sued the EPA, their contractors and the owner of the Gold King Mine in Colorado in May 2016 over damages caused by the mine spill.
EPA contractors breached the Gold King Mine in August 2015, unleashing 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into nearby rivers that thousands rely on for drinking water and agriculture. EPA has not punished or fired a single employee or contractor for the spill.
An orange plume of pollution, including 880,000 pounds of toxic metals, made its way through the Animas and San Juan rivers to Lake Powell over the last year.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, laid into EPA, and threatened to use legal action against the agency.
residents receive just compensation.”
— John W. Hickenlooper (@GovofCO) January 14, 2017
EPA said it’s received 73 claims related to the Gold King spill, totalling more than $1.2 billion. The agency has not evaluated the legitimacy of the claims, four of which come from government bodies.
If Colorado sues EPA, it will join New Mexico and Navajo Nation in asking the agency for compensation. Navajo Nation is suing EPA for $160 million for damages caused by the spill.
EPA spent $29 million to testing water quality and setting up temporary water treatment sites in the wake of the spill, though it could take decades for toxic metals to work their way out of the water.
EPA recently rejected $20.4 million in reimbursement claims from state and tribal governments. Officials will only pay out $4.5 million in claims.
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