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By William H. Carlile
Jan. 14 — The New Mexico Environment Department announced Jan. 14 its intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Colorado and owners of the Gold King and Sunnyside mines in connection with environmental impacts it said resulted from the August 2015 massive waste spill in the Animas River that EPA officials admitted causing.
The notice of intent to sue begins a 90-day period before a formal lawsuit is lodged.
An estimated 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste was released into the Animas and San Juan rivers in August 2015 when an EPA contractor accidentally triggered the spill while trying to stabilize the mine. The state said the accident caused toxins to be deposited on the riverbed, agricultural lands and elsewhere in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a statement that from the very beginning of the incident, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way it would a private business.
The EPA “caused an unprecedented disaster that may affect our state for years to come; they must take responsibility,” Flynn said.
The state plans to follow through with its lawsuit, to be filed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the department said, unless “meaningful measures” are taken to clean up the affected areas and the agency agrees to long-term plan that will research and monitor effects of the spill.
EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham told Bloomberg BNA the agency could not address the specifics of the notice, but said it is working with the states to develop a monitoring plan to evaluate potential environmental impacts from the spill and will be meeting with representatives in early February.
“EPA is also reimbursing state and local agencies for response-related costs associated with the spill,” she said. “We will carefully review the information provided by the New Mexico Environment Department and respond accordingly.”
On Aug. 5, 2015, when the spill occurred, the EPA failed to notify New Mexico of the spill or to communicate effectively with the state and environmental groups, according to the department.
The first word New Mexico received of the spill came not from EPA, but from the Southern Ute Tribe. Since then, the department claimed, EPA has continued to fail to cooperate with state and local agencies and communities.
Gov. Susana Martinez (R) formed a team to conduct a long-term impact review. The aim, according to the department, is to learn more about the potential consequences of the spill on the health of local communities, sediment, water, wildlife and agriculture.
However, New Mexico officials said the EPA has failed to communicate or to provide accurate information in addressing those concerns.
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