Supreme Court asks DOJ to weigh in on mine spill lawsuit

Supreme Court asks DOJ to weigh in on mine spill lawsuit
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The Supreme Court is asking the Obama administration to weigh in on New Mexico’s lawsuit against Colorado over a major mine waste spill last year.

Monday's request to the Justice Department, known as a “call for the views of the solicitor general,” followed a high court conference last week that included consideration of the New Mexico lawsuit.

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New Mexico filed the lawsuit in June, seeking unspecified damages for the August 2015 mine waste spill at Gold King Mine. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took responsibility for that spill, since its contractor caused it by breaking the abandoned mine. Colorado state officials, however, were also involved in the planning for the cleanup operation that led to the spill.

It’s unlikely that the Justice Department and acting Solicitor General Ian Gershengorn will be able to fulfill the Supreme Court’s request before President Obama leaves office on Jan. 20, kicking responsibility for the filing to the administration of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE.

Three million gallons of sludge containing toxic heavy metals like arsenic and lead were dumped into a tributary of the Animus River. That river feeds into the San Juan River, which enters New Mexico.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) wrote in the complaint that Colorado’s actions leading up to the spill were “reckless” and called it “the coup de grâce of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price.”

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R) called her neighbor’s lawsuit “unfortunate” and said it was unclear how it furthers “the states’ mutual goal of holding the EPA to its promise to ‘take full responsibility’ for turning our rivers yellow.' ”

Legal conflicts between states typically go directly to the Supreme Court, unlike other lawsuits, which start in lower courts and can eventually be appealed to the high court.

Calls for the views of the solicitor general usually signal that the justices are seriously considering allowing the lawsuit to proceed to oral arguments.

New Mexico sued the EPA in May over its responsibility for the spill, and the Navajo Nation, whose reservation includes the San Juan River, has also sued the federal agency.