EPA Criticized for Size of Gold King Spill Reimbursements

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By Tripp Baltz

April 29 — The Environmental Protection Agency has paid more than $1 million in reimbursement for costs paid by local governments in the aftermath of the 2015 Gold King Mine spill in Colorado, where EPA investigators triggered the release of mining wastewater and sediment into a river.

The funding is in addition to $2 million the EPA has allocated, but not yet paid, for monitoring and spring runoff preparedness, the agency said April 28. The agency has received or is reviewing an additional $711,805 in other funding requests from states and counties affected by the spill.

Local elected officials and some members of Congress complained that the funding fell far short of what was sought from the EPA. For example, La Plata County, Colo., which received $197,792 in reimbursement, has requested $2.4 million over 10 years for future expenses, a request the EPA turned down.

The dispute over reimbursement is the latest disagreement between the EPA and state, local and tribal governments over the spill. EPA workers digging at the entrance of the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., triggered the spill, unleashing some 3 million gallons of mining wastewater and toxic sludge into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River. The plume of heavy metals and waste flowed through three states and Native American lands before emptying into the Colorado River at Lake Powell.

‘If Accurate, It's Outrageous.'

“If the reports are accurate, it’s outrageous the EPA does not intend to fully reimburse La Plata County for the disaster it created,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said in an April 28 statement. “This is yet another example of the Washington double standard, and it’s unacceptable, shameful, and will be fiercely challenged. The EPA must keep its promise to the people of Colorado and abide by the standards it expects of others.”

“This is par for the course with the EPA,” Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) said in an April 28 statement. “I have been skeptical of the EPA’s management of this situation from the onset and find it offensive to the communities in my district that the EPA, who is directly responsible for this disaster, has so blatantly admitted La Plata County, and others, will not receive full compensation for the damages caused by this spill.”

The EPA has taken responsibility for the incident and is “committed to continue working hand-in-hand with the impacted local governments, states and tribes,” an agency spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA April 29.

Future Expenses Not Covered

The request by La Plata County was to fund up to $2.4 million over 10 years for spill-related costs and preparation measures for future emergencies, and is not an allowable response cost under the existing cooperative agreement the county has with the EPA, officials said. The agency has already provided $197,792 to the county according to a pre-existing cooperative agreement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Additionally, the EPA is evaluating more than $140,000 in expenses requested by La Plata County prior to Oct. 31, 2015, and expects to reimburse allowable response costs under the existing cooperative agreement. The agency has provided other reimbursement amounts to San Juan County/Town of Silverton; Durango, Colo.; the Navajo Nation; the New Mexico Environment Department; and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

Also, the EPA has allocated $2 million in funding to support long-term monitoring by states and tribes. Utah, New Mexico, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the 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,” the EPA said in a statement e-mailed to Bloomberg BNA.

Individuals, businesses or governmental entities that believe they have suffered damages resulting from the Gold King Mine spill can file a claim with the EPA under the Federal Tort Claims Act for injury or damage.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The EPA has posted claim forms and processing information on its website at www.epa.gov/goldkingmine.