NM Delegation Urges EPA to Address Compensation Delays for Gold King Mine Spill Victims, Work with State to Monitor Water Quality

WASHINGTON, DC – (RealEstateRama) — In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed concerns with delays in compensation for costs and damages in New Mexico caused by the EPA’s Gold King Mine spill in Colorado six months ago. They urged the EPA to process reimbursement claims submitted by the state and the Navajo Nation and to set up an Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims to begin processing compensation for victims.

The letter also calls on the EPA to approve a long-term water monitoring plan that is acceptable to the state.

“The spill at Gold King Mine on August 5, 2015 is now over six months old, but the health and financial impacts are very current,” the delegation wrote in the letter sent last week. “We are deeply troubled that these two issues are still far from resolved six months after the spill. The EPA has publicly taken responsibility for the spill and the investigation by the Department of the Interior found that EPA failed to consider complex engineering involved in the blowout and that the blowout could have been prevented. Therefore, we expect that the EPA will compensate victims of the spill for any losses impacting health, property, business and personal finances under the Federal Tort Claims Act.”

The delegation also asked the EPA to respond quickly to the requests by the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation for reimbursement of costs that the governments incurred in the aftermath of the accident. “[We] urge EPA to set up an Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims to begin processing compensation for victims,” the letter continues. “Many are still feeling the economic impacts and health uncertainties of the spill and need a better process for processing claims. In particular, we believe EPA should work with Tribes to designate a special liaison within the Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims to work specifically with impacted tribal communities; EPA should expedite claims to victims; and EPA should ensure that victims are not prevented from submitting claims in the future as new damages are discovered.”

In addition to addressing compensation issues, the lawmakers urged the EPA to support the state’s plan for long-term water quality monitoring, saying that the urgency increases as spring approaches: “Very soon the spring snowmelt will dramatically increase water flow to the region. We feel strongly that the water and soil should be remediated and heavy metals removed before further contamination is spread.” The Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill passed in December 2015 included language directing EPA to support multi-state long-term monitoring efforts.

The letter is available HERE and below.

The Honorable Gina McCarthy
Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

The spill at Gold King Mine on August 5, 2015 is now over six months old, but the health and financial impacts are very current. We write to you today with concern about EPA’s proposed water monitoring plan and to ensure that impacted communities are fully compensated for financial burdens that they incurred during and after the spill.

Resolution on these issues is incomplete. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has made clear in their own review that the spill was preventable and caused by the actions of EPA and its contractor on site. As a result of these actions, the governments of the State of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation incurred millions of dollars of expenses responding to the spill. It is our understanding that both governments have conveyed the extent of their expenses to EPA.

Furthermore, the 2016 Omnibus spending legislation directed EPA to coordinate with impacted states and tribes on the development of a robust, long-term plan for independent monitoring. EPA was instructed to use existing funds to provide States and tribes with support for their contribution to monitoring efforts.

We are deeply troubled that these two issues are still far from resolved six months after the spill. The EPA has publicly taken responsibility for the spill and the investigation by the Department of the Interior found that EPA failed to consider complex engineering involved in the blowout and that the blowout could have been prevented. Therefore, we expect that the EPA will compensate victims of the spill for any losses impacting health, property, business and personal finances under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

We expect EPA to respond quickly to the State of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation on their requests for reimbursement and for EPA to support the State of New Mexico’s long-term water-quality monitoring plan to ensure that public health is protected. Very soon the spring snowmelt will dramatically increase water flow to the region. We feel strongly that the water and soil should be remediated and heavy metals removed before further contamination is spread. The EPA should reprogram funds or use other means to ensure that a plan acceptable to the state of New Mexico is implemented as soon as possible to protect the health and safety of downstream users.

Finally, we urge EPA to set up an Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims to begin processing compensation for victims. Many are still feeling the economic impacts and health uncertainties of the spill and need a better process for processing claims. In particular, we believe EPA should work with Tribes to designate a special liaison within the Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims to work specifically with impacted tribal communities; EPA should expedite claims to victims; and EPA should ensure that victims are not prevented from submitting claims in the future as new damages are discovered.

Thank you for your attention to these matters.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Tom Udall
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
U.S. Representative Steve Pearce
U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján
U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham

SHARE
Previous articleUdall, Heinrich Announce $8.2 Million to Construct Rio Grande Water Project, Fund Watershed Assessment and Environmental Management
Next articleUdall, Heinrich Announce $7.3 Million to Combat Homelessness in New Mexico