MAC: Mines and Communities

Navajo Nation sues EPA over metal sludge from Colorado mine spill

Published by MAC on 2016-08-18
Source: Reuters, AP (2016-08-16)

Federal investigators said they have opened a criminal probe into the tragic 2015 spill.

Federal investigators said they have opened a criminal probe into the 2015 spill of some 3 million gallons (11 million liters) of toxic wastewater from a defunct Colorado gold mine, triggered by a contractor with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In a court filing, the Navajo tribe alleged the EPA and other parties "recklessly" burrowed into the Gold King Mine, releasing waste into water upstream from the tribe's land.

A year later, the waterways remain contaminated and the Navajo people have yet to be compensated, according to the complaint that also names EPA contractor Environmental Restoration, the Kinross Gold Corp and Sunnyside Gold Corp.

See also:

2016-02-16 USA: EPA confirms pollution from mine spill it caused

2015-10-30 USA: EPA mine spill could have been prevented, probe concludes

2015-08-14 US EPA head meets with Navajo president over Colorado mine spill

Navajo Nation sues EPA over metal sludge from Colorado mine spill

Reuters - http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-environment-navajo-idUSKCN10R1IL

Aug 16, 2016

The Navajo Nation sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, one year after 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater spilled into three states from an abandoned Colorado gold mine.

In a court filing, the Navajo tribe alleged the EPA and other parties "recklessly" burrowed into the Gold King Mine in 2015, releasing waste into water upstream from the tribe's land.

A year later, the waterways remain contaminated and the Navajo people have yet to be compensated, according to the complaint that also names EPA contractor Environmental Restoration, the Kinross Gold Corp and Sunnyside Gold Corp.

"One of the Navajo people's most important sources of water for life and livelihood was poisoned with some of the worst contaminants known to man, including lead and arsenic," Navajo Nation said in the 48-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of New Mexico.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency could not comment on pending litigation.

The August 2015 rupture of the closed mine unleashed a torrent of yellow sludge with high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead in areas of New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. An EPA inspection team had been at the site to inspect seepage at the mine, which had been dormant for decades.

New Mexico has already sued the EPA, citing widespread environmental damage and economic harm.

In its suit, Navajo Nation - a federally recognized Indian Tribe - cited millions of dollars of damage to its people and a lack of "any meaningful recovery," pointing to the tribe's heavy reliance on the now-contaminated San Juan River.

"Efforts to be made whole over the past year have been met with resistance, delays, and second-guessing," it wrote. The EPA and the other defendants "ignored warning signs for years" and "failed to prepare for known risks of a mine blowout," it added.

The EPA has said it takes responsibility for the cleanup and that it has made more than $29 million available in response, including more than $1 million to Navajo Nation. It has yet to decide whether to designate Gold King as a Superfund site, which would give it access more cleanup funds.

The agency has also put in place a plan to monitor water quality. Metal concentrations exceeded the tribe’s agricultural screening levels for a short duration, but "EPA water quality experts believe the San Juan River is safe for agriculture and irrigation," according to its website.

The case is Navajo Nation v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. District Court for New Mexico, case No. 1:16-cv-00931.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)


Navajo president calls mine spill unprecedented disaster

The Associated Press - http://gazette.com/navajo-president-calls-mine-spill-unprecedented-disaster/article/1582894

August 16, 2016

SHIPROCK, N.M. — One of the nation's largest American Indian tribes is the latest entity to pursue legal action against the federal government over a massive mine waste spill that tainted rivers in three Western states.

Navajo Nation officials say they have directed their attorneys to file a lawsuit over what they call an "unprecedented environmental disaster."

Navajo President Russell Begaye, Navajo Attorney General Ethel Branch and other tribal officials planned to discuss details of the legal action during a news conference Tuesday in Shiprock, New Mexico.

A federal contractor triggered the spill in August 2015 during preliminary cleanup work. Three million gallons of wastewater carrying arsenic, lead and other heavy metals tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it takes responsibility for the spill.


Criminal investigation underway into 2015 Colorado mine spill

Keith Coffman

Reuters - http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-mine-spill-idUSKCN10C39T

Aug 1, 2016

Federal investigators said on Monday they have opened a criminal probe into the 2015 spill of some 3 million gallons (11 million liters) of toxic wastewater from a defunct Colorado gold mine that was triggered by a contractor with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

At the urging of congressional leaders, the EPA's Office of Inspector General is investigating the rupture from the Gold King Mine above Silverton, Colorado, that fouled waterways in three states and Native American lands, the agency said in a statement.

"Based on requests from several members of the House and Senate, the OIG is conducting both a program evaluation and a criminal investigation of the Gold King Mine spill," the EPA said in a statement.

The OIG is an independent office that audits, investigates and evaluates the agency's activities, the EPA statement said.

Last August, a contractor hired by the EPA to slow seepage from the century-old stake breached a tunnel wall, unleashing a torrent of wastewater that had backed up behind the mountainside.

The orange-colored sludge, containing nearly 900,000 pounds (408, 233 kg) of heavy metals, poured into a creek that feeds the Animas and San Juan rivers and traversed into New Mexico, ultimately emptying into Lake Powell in Utah.

Two Republican members of the U.S. Senate's Committee on Indian Affairs, John McCain of Arizona and Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming, sent a letter in May to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging her to launch a criminal probe into the spill.

On Monday, Barrasso applauded the probe.

"Tribal communities in the affected region have been devastated and the EPA has not taken responsibility for the mess it made," Barrasso said in a statement.  "I hope this investigation uncovers who is at fault and holds them responsible. We will be watching closely."

A report issued last fall by engineers with the U.S. Department of Reclamation concluded that the spill had been "preventable" and was caused by several missteps over several decades, including nearby mining operations and tunneling that the EPA overlooked when it opened a portal at the site.

Jeffrey Lagda, a spokesman for the EPA's Inspector General, told Reuters that the probe has been ongoing for some time, and that investigators are working with prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver.

The state of New Mexico has sued the EPA, the state of Colorado and two mining companies over the disaster.

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