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Update on Gold King Mine Spill

Gold King Mine Spill

On August 5, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was excavating the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. During the excavation, approximately three million gallons of water from the mine poured into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River. The contaminated water turned the Animas River into a mustard-yellow color as it flowed through Durango, Colorado, eventually flowing into New Mexico, into the San Juan River and into Utah. 

The La Plata County (Colorado) Commissioner stated that businesses that rely on the river and the water suffered immediate losses “ranging from $8,600 to $100,000 each.”   There is no way to know what the long-term effects will be on businesses in Colorado.  Currently, there is ongoing discussion on whether to designate this a Superfund cleanup site.

The Navajo Nation is unsatisfied with the EPA’s response to this incident.  Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs that the EPA waited 48 hours before informing Navajo Nation officials of the incident, which shows a lack of “transparency and creates mistrust.”  The approximately three million gallons of mine waste made its way to the San Juan River, which runs through New Mexico and is used for Navajo agriculture.  Begay requested that the EPA compensate Navajo farmers and ranchers.  During this same hearing, the EPA director stated that the agency will be taking full responsibility for cleanup and recovery and will be working with tribes to reimburse those affected. 

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced the “Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015” on September 24, 2015.  The purpose of this legislation is to “provide compensation to injured persons relating to the Gold King Mine spill, to amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 to address mining-related issues, and for other purposes.”  The legislation found that due to the contaminated three million gallons of water flowing down the river, the States of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as well as the Navajo Nation have issued state of emergency declarations.  The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has issued a declaration of disaster.  The legislation requests swift compensation for all losses suffered by individuals (farmers and ranchers), tribes, tribal corporations or organizations, businesses, townships, cities, etc.  The legislation will provide long-term water-quality monitoring that will provide data to all affected communities. 

Furthermore, the legislation takes steps to prevent future disasters by requiring agencies to identify the most dangerous abandoned mines in the West and establish a priority plan for cleanup.  Before cleanup occurs, the agency will be required to alert nearby communities and develop a contingency plan in case of a blowout. You can read the text of the proposed legislation here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr3602/text.

There is a similar bill being proposed in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM).  The text can be found here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/s2063/text.