DENVER – Colorado and some local jurisdictions in the southwestern part of the state are getting fractions of what was initially sought in reimbursement money from the Environmental Protection Agency for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill, but received another $54,000 Thursday.
The EPA said in January that it would not fully repay the 73 claims from both governments and private entities worth $1.2 billion for the spill, which was caused by EPA contractors and hampered communities in southwest Colorado, northwest New Mexico and southeast Utah for months.
The spill released 3 million gallons of heavy metal-laden wastewater into the Animas River near Silverton, which turned the water orange as the plume made its way into Utah.
Among those who have sued the EPA for the spill are the Navajo Nation and state of New Mexico.
The EPA announced in December it was paying some of the governments affected a total of $4.5 million, but rejected $20.4 million in other requests, mostly from private businesses.
A news release from the EPA Thursday says is has so far “dedicated more than $29 million to address the Gold King Mine release, including reimbursing more than $3.5 million in documented and allowable response costs.”
It cites federal law for barring the rest of the money, as it did in January when it said that federal law prohibits the EPA from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity that bars some lawsuits filed against the federal government.
After the feds denied the payment in December, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton wrote a letter to then-EPA head Gina McCarthy saying the government’s decision was “unacceptable.”
But on Thursday, the EPA said it was issuing more than $90,000 in payments to various governmental entities in Colorado and Utah under the newly-enacted WIIN Act, which Gardner helped pass in December after writing the letter, and directs the EPA to pay “any claim” by a state, tribe, or local government for “eligible reasonable costs” relating to the mine spill.
Under the act, “eligible response costs” include only response costs that were incurred before Sept. 9, 2016 and costs incurred after that date that were preapproved by the EPA.
The mine was also added to the Superfund Priorities List last year.
Of the approximately $90,000, Colorado entities are getting $54,275.40 of it for “payroll, fringe, travel and indirect costs,” according to the EPA, broken down as follows:
- $812.49 to Southern Ute Tribe
- $1,072.63 to the city of Durango
- $13,611.22 to the San Juan Basin Health Department
- $38,779.06 to La Plata County
In a news release, Gardner touted new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt as being responsible for the new payments.
“Within a month of Administrator Pruitt being confirmed to lead the EPA, he is taking the first steps to live up to his commitment to the people of Colorado,” he said in the release. “I applaud this decision to further pay out the Tribe and local government in an effort to make Colorado whole from the EPA-born Gold King Mine spill.”
Colorado’s other senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, also lauded the EPA’s reimbursement Thursday:
“The EPA’s decision to award additional funds means a great deal to our communities,” Bennet said in a statement. “This money will allow Coloradans to continue recovering from the spill, and shift their focus to working with the EPA through the Superfund process to clean up the Upper Animas River watershed. We will continue to fight budget cuts to the EPA that would hinder the vital recovery and cleanup effort, while pushing the EPA to provide the remaining reimbursements to make Southwest Colorado communities whole again.”
La Plata County Public Affairs Officer Megan Graham told Denver7 the notice that the county would receive more reimbursement money was “wonderful news.”
The county had gone back-and-forth with the EPA in recent months over a reimbursement gap, though it’s unclear if the remaining funds sought by the county are now fully reimbursed.