In-Depth: Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) introduced this bill to provide compensation to those injured by the Gold King Mine spill, and to provide funds for New Mexico’s long-term water quality monitoring program:
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was responsible for allowing millions of gallons of contaminated waste water to spill into the Animas and San Juan Rivers in New Mexico. This put the health and livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, tribes, and businesses who depend on the water from these rivers at risk, and no one has been held responsible for the damage caused by the spill. This bill will ensure that New Mexicans affected by this spill will be rightfully compensated by setting up an office to process and better address the claims related to the spill. It will also mandate the EPA to fund a long-term water monitoring program developed by New Mexico to provide proof to the communities that the water is clean and safe following the spill. Lastly, this bill prohibits rulemaking by the EPA until all claims are processed. This recovery process has gone on way too long, and the people of New Mexico deserve certainty. A good government must be held accountable to its citizens, and this bill takes an important and necessary step forward to ensure those who were wronged are made whole.”
On January 13, 2017, the EPA said it was was legally protected from any damages from the Gold King spill — denying payment of over $1.2 billion in damages from 73 claims. However, at his nomination hearing, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt pledged to review this decision. After visiting the site in August 2017, Pruitt reaffirmed those intentions, saying:
“When I was appointed EPA administrator by President Trump, I committed to review the Gold King Mine decision made by the previous administration. A new review is paramount to ensure that those who have, in fact, suffered losses have a fair opportunity to have their claims heard.”
Pruitt said that claims less than $2,500 would be paid by the EPA, and anything over that amount would come from a special federal fund created to pay out claims against the government. He added that some claims would require approval from the Justice Department owing to their size However, as of January 2018, the EPA has yet to provide an update on this process.
Rep. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who has previously authored legislation to help victims of the Gold King Mine spill receive compensation from the government, doesn’t support any measure that would require a substantial cut from the EPA. His spokeswoman, Samantha Slater, said, “Michael does not believe it’s necessary to erode the EPA’s budget… in order to pay the claims.”
Of Note: The Gold King Mine spill occurred on August 5, 2015. The EPA was investigating the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado when heavy equipment disturbed loose material around a soil “plug” at the mine entrance, causing a torrent of water to gush out. This released approximately three million gallons of acid mine drainage into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River, and then into the Colorado River. The affected watershed includes six U.S. states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California).
Shortly after the spill, the EPA claimed that water quality had returned to pre-spill levels, but a scientific team found evidence to the contrary.
Shortly after the spill, EPA officials were on hand at meetings in August 2015 to help area residents affected by the spill file claims forms. Residents were told they had up to two years from the date of the spill to file claims, which the EPA would review on an individual basis. Two months after the spill, over 30 individuals and business owners filed claims totaling $1.3 million.
As of August 2017, the EPA had spent over $29 million on response to the Gold King Mine spill, and reimbursed over $3.5 million to local, state, and tribal governments for costs incurred from the release.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: riverhugger
via Wikimedia / Creative Commons)