By Rick Sallinger

(CBS4) – The EPA insists it is doing the right thing for the massive spill that it caused in August 2015. But Colorado political leaders are putting the agency on notice that it needs to pay up.

Sen. Cory Gardner and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch may introduce a bill to force the EPA to pay full compensation for the Gold King Mine spill.

The fallout continues long after the EPA admitted responsibility for this environmental disaster.

La Plata County has said it was turned down for the full amount requested for compensation for past and future expenses.

“If they don’t want to do it through their own budgets then we will direct appropriations and legislation to take money from them to get the job done,” Gardner said.

The EPA said it doesn’t cover future expenses and gave CBS4 a list of the compensation it has provided so far, which totals to more than $2 million.

PHOTO GALLERY: Gold King Mine Tour

State Rep. J. Paul Brown represents the spill area.

“The EPA is responsible for that spill and we need to take some time to make sure everyone is compensated,” Brown said.

The Navajo Nation, which CBS4 reporter Rick Sallinger visited recently, has been given $157,000 and the EPA says it spent over $1 million responding to the spill. They are only now reopening their irrigation canal due to fear of continued contamination.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents Colorado’s Western Slope, wants the EPA to fulfill its obligations.

“It isn’t fair to our local community,” Tipton said. “The EPA admitted they are at fault and would take full responsibility.”

The EPA is still considering requests for more than $500,000 in expenses from the days and week just after the waters turned orange.

Gardner told CBS4 the EPA has set a deadline in October for claims to be filed for damages suffered from the spill. Gardner said the full extent may not be known until long past then.

Sen. Michael Bennet is also joining in the call for total reimbursement.

Additional Resources

An EPA spokesperson provided the following statement in relation to this story:

EPA takes responsibility for the Gold King Mine release and is committed to continue working hand-in-hand with the impacted local governments, states and tribes. To date EPA has/is:

• Provided $197,792 to La Plata County through a pre-existing cooperative agreement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). These funds were a reimbursement for the County’s allowable removal response expenses related to the Gold King Mine release. EPA is in the process of evaluating over $140,000 in additional expenses requested by La Plata County prior to October 31, 2015, and expects to reimburse allowable response costs under the existing cooperative agreement.
• Provided $220,667 to San Juan County/Town of Silverton through a pre-existing cooperative agreement with CDPHE. These funds were reimbursement for the county’s and town’s allowable removal response expenses related to the Gold King Mine-related release.
• Provided $9,786 to La Plata through a Superfund Cooperative Agreement awarded on April 1, 2016. EPA is in the process of evaluating over $140,000 in additional expenses requested by La Plata County prior to October 31, 2015, and expects to reimburse allowable response costs under the existing cooperative agreement soon.
• Provided $2,471 to the City of Durango through a Superfund Cooperative Agreement awarded on April 1, 2016.
• Allocated $2 million in funding to support states’ and tribes’ long-term monitoring plans. Utah, New Mexico, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, and Colorado are eligible and may apply those funds to spring monitoring and preparedness planning as well. Some entities have applied and some have not.
• Provided $157,000 in funding through a cooperative agreement with Navajo Nation government agencies for costs incurred during the response to the August 2015 Gold King Mine release, and requested additional information from the Navajo Nation about remaining reimbursement requests to determine their eligibility under the EPA’s response authorities and federal grant principles. These funds are in addition to more than $1.1 million spent by the agency in response costs on the Navajo Nation immediately following the spill.
• Reimbursed the Southern Ute Indian Tribe $116,372 for costs incurred during the response.
• Reimbursed the New Mexico Environment Department for $334,064 for costs incurred during the response. EPA is working with the New Mexico Environment Department to review additional requests for response costs following the state’s request for an extension.
• Received a reimbursement request for approximately $303,500 from the State of Colorado, CDPHE, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Response; and $128,305 from the State of Utah, Department of Environmental Quality.
• Agreed to contribute additional funds, that in combination with prior funds, will enable states and tribes to fund a real time water quality monitoring alert system in the upper Animas area above Silverton to assess contributions from Cement Creek, Mineral Creek and the upper Animas, as well as above Durango and below the confluence of Mineral Creek and the Animas River. This real-time monitoring would also serve to ensure successful coordination and implementation of notification and preparedness activities for communities downstream.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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