Sun, Aug 06, 2017 - Page 5 News List

EPA mulls spill payments


Wastewater from the Gold King Mine collects in holding pools in San Juan County, Colorado, on Aug. 7, 2015.

Photo: EPA

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will reconsider whether to pay farmers, business owners and others in three states for economic losses caused by a mine waste spill that US government crews triggered in 2015, the agency’s leader said on Friday during a visit to the site.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who toured Gold King Mine with Colorado lawmakers on the eve of the incident’s second anniversary, said he told people to resubmit claims rejected by the administration of former US president Barack Obama.

It was not clear if the agency could pay on its own or how much of the potential payouts would need to be approved by the US Congress.

The spill sent 11.3 million liters of tainted wastewater from the old gold mine into rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, causing an estimated US$420 million in economic damage.

The EPA has designated the area a Superfund site to pay for a broad cleanup.

Stretches of waterways turned an eerie orange-yellow, and the rivers were temporarily off-limits for agriculture and water utilities, as well as fishing and boating — important contributors to the area’s recreational economy.

The EPA has said water quality has returned to the conditions before the spill.

Native American reservations along the rivers were also affected.

Pruitt, who had promised to visit the mine during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, said he has sent letters to people whose claims were rejected by former Obama’s EPA.

In January, the agency said federal law prevented it from paying claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.

The “EPA should be held to the same standard as those we regulate,” he said in a statement. “The previous administration failed those who counted on them to protect the environment.”

It is uncertain whether the White House and Congress are willing to pay for any of the economic losses, although the Republican Party has been most vocal in demanding that the EPA make good.

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