EPA to Pay for CO Mine Spill

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 @ 02:12 PM gHale

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will pay $4.5 million to state, local and tribal governments for their emergency response to a mine spill the EPA triggered in 2015.

On the other hand, though, the agency rejected $20.4 million in other requests for past and future expenses.

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The EPA provided the figures a day after it informed two American Indian tribes and more than a dozen state and local agencies in Colorado and New Mexico of its decision.

An EPA-led crew accidentally triggered a 3 million-gallon spill from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while doing preliminary cleanup work in August 2015. The wastewater carried arsenic, lead, metal and other heavy metals into rivers, and polluted waterways in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The spill prompted utilities, farmers and ranchers to temporarily stop drawing water from the rivers. The EPA said the water quality returned to pre-spill levels quickly.

Reimbursements for emergency response costs have been contentious. Some governments complained the EPA was rejecting legitimate expenses or taking too long to make decisions on reimbursements.

Two bills before Congress aimed at speeding up the reimbursement process.

The EPA said it is following federal law that dictates what it can pay.

Separately, the Navajo Nation filed a claim with the federal government last week seeking $162 million related to the spill, including $3.1 million for non-reimbursed expenses, and $159 million to develop alternative water supplies, and for future monitoring and other costs.

One of the rivers affected by the spill, the San Juan, crosses the Navajo Nation. In addition to agriculture and drinking uses, the tribe considers the river sacred.

The EPA said the Navajo Nation had requested $1.4 million and would be reimbursed $603,000. The difference in the EPA and Navajo figures couldn’t immediately be reconciled.

Navajo Nation officials had no immediate comment.



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