On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency said it will not repay over $1.2 billion for economic damages it caused as the result of the toxic Gold King Mine waste spill it accidentally triggered in Colorado last year, citing the Federal Tort Claims Act as the basis for its decision.
Over three million gallons of toxic wastewater — tainted with iron, aluminum, manganese, lead, copper, and other metals — had reportedly poured into a tributary that feeds the Animas River and ultimately flows into the San Juan River and Lake Powell. Some of the affected rivers pass through Navajo Indian reservations.
“The agency worked hard to find a way in which it could pay individuals for damages due to the incident, but unfortunately, our hands are tied,” EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said, according to the Associated Press.
According to the USA Today, the EPA said the Federal Tort Claims Act prevents them from paying claims that are the result of”discretionary” government actions and stated that the work conducted at the Gold King Mine is considered a “discretionary function” under the law.
The EPA reportedly wrote in a press release their belief that “Congress passed the law to allow government agencies — and in this case, contractors working on their behalf — to act ‘without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action.'”
However, Republicans and Democrats alike railed against the EPA’s decision to renege on its promise to compensate the people who suffered from their irresponsibility.
“The news today is a complete departure from that commitment, and our states, local governments, and tribes can rest assured that we will continue to work to make the EPA accountable for the mess they have made,” Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) wrote in a joint statement released with Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) announcing their intention to introduce legislation against the EPA.
New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), issued a joint statement denouncing the EPA. “We are outraged at this last-ditch move by the federal government’s lawyers to go back on the EPA’s promise to the people of the state of New Mexico – and especially the Navajo Nation – that it would fully address this environmental disaster that still plagues the people of the Four Corners region.”
According to the AP, the Gold King is one of hundreds of inactive mines in the Colorado mountains that continuously spew polluted water into rivers or could in the future.
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