As you may recall, in 2015 an EPA contractor was doing excavation work at the Gold King Mine in Colorado, a superfund site, to determine the extent of cleanup needed. The work accidentally allowed some 3 million gallons of contaminated waste water to escape. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted, with the waterways turning an eerie orange-yellow.
Well, guess what. The EPA is taking responsibility for that spill, but in a brilliant piece of bureaucratic doublespeak, they aren’t going to pay for the damage they did. According to lawyers working for the EPA and the Justice Department, they just can’t do it. They say that the law prohibits payment.
This was real damage, not the imagined harm that plowing might do. It is a real and big violation of the Waters of the USA, and the EPA did it.
The rivers were prime irrigation sources for farms downstream. Some farmers lost crops altogether. Others were able to haul water and save their crop and livestock, at substantial expense. This is also a popular boating area, and local rafting companies had to shut down until the spill was stopped and the water was determined to be safe again.
Claims totaling 1.2 billion dollars were filed by 73 farmers, businessmen, and some homeowners who say their wells were ruined by the spill. But the government says it is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most claims against the government.
According to the EPA’s spokesperson Nancy Grantham, “The agency worked hard to find a way in which it could pay individuals for damages due to the incident,” but their hands are tied. She suggests filing lawsuits in Federal court, or asking Congress to authorize payment.
The state and federal politicians in the affected area said they were dumfounded by the Agency’s decision. They believe the EPA is reneging on a pledge they made to the affected citizens in the area.
New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan are quoted by CBS News as saying they are “outraged at this last-ditch move by the federal government’s lawyers to go back on the EPA’s promise to the people of the state of New Mexico – and especially the Navajo Nation – that it would fully address this environmental disaster that still plagues the people of the Four Corners region.”
Yea, we are outraged too, Senators. It just isn’t right. You’d think they’d be ashamed after all the shoddy treatment they’ve pushed on farmers and ranchers with alleged Waters of the USA violations.
Wake up, you Feds. It’s nonsense like this that leads people to join the Sagebrush Rebellion.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View for AgNet West.