Trump admin. wants Gold King Mine spill case dismissed

Trump admin. wants Gold King Mine spill case dismissed
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The Trump administration is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by New Mexico and the Navajo Nation over a 2015 mine-waste spill caused by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Justice Department filed a brief Monday arguing that the EPA, as a government agency, has sovereign immunity because its workers and contractors were trying to clean up the abandoned Gold King Mine when it caused the spill in Colorado.

The government is continuing the same argument of the Obama administration, which concluded in January that the EPA was legally barred from paying out the $1.2 billion in claims from people, businesses, governments and others who said they were harmed by the spill.

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Republicans and government representatives near the spill site slammed the Obama administration for that decision, saying its response to the incident was inadequate.

“These claims against EPA ignore well-settled law that [the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act] does not waive EPA’s sovereign immunity to suit when its sole connection to the site at issue arises from exercising its authority under CERCLA to respond to other entities’ legacy contamination,” the Justice Department wrote to the federal court in New Mexico, referring to the 1980 law that established the Superfund program for major environmental cleanups.

“Plaintiffs’ own allegations acknowledge that EPA became involved at the Gold King Mine not because of any historic involvement in the operations that resulted in mining waste, but rather by exercising its authority under CERCLA to assist in responding to environmental contamination caused by others,” attorneys wrote.

The 2015 spill was caused by an EPA contractor who, working with federal and state employees, miscalculated the pressure of wastewater at the abandoned mine.

About 3 million gallons of toxic sludge spilled out, turning the Animas River orange for days, along with downstream rivers that run through New Mexico and the Navajo Nation’s reservation.

New Mexico has also sued Colorado in the Supreme Court over its alleged responsibility for the spill. The high court is considering whether to hear that case.