According to Senator Udall, the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act does three things. It “requires the EPA to compensate New Mexico communities that were impacted. It requires the EPA to keep monitoring the water quality in the Animas and San Juan rivers, and it would help prevent future disasters.”
It appears that celebrity activist Erin Brockovich has succeeded again in her efforts to raise awareness to an environmental issue. Two weeks after her appearance at a series of events with Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, New Mexico Democrats, Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján, as well as Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet have introduced legislation to compensate victims of the Gold Creek Mine spill that occurred on August 5th. Workers for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and private contractor Environmental Restoration LLC accidently destroyed a dam at the abandoned mine near Silverton, Colorado that held back a tailing pond. The pond contained a large portion of wastewater full of separated minerals including a large amount of cadmium, lead, and toxic arsenic. Water from the pond eventually spilled into the Animas and San Juan Rivers and their tributaries in Southern Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. The San Juan is the major water supply for the 300,000 residents of the Navajo Nation, whose territory borders the three states. The compensation would include financial, property, and business losses.
According to Senator Udall, the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act does three things. It “requires the EPA to compensate New Mexico communities that were impacted. It requires the EPA to keep monitoring the water quality in the Animas and San Juan rivers, and it would help prevent future disasters.” The bill comes a week after Begaye met with a joint congressional committee investigating the spill, with Begaye telling legislators “We don’t know who to trust anymore,” and adding that many in the community are suffering with depression over the agricultural losses due to the contaminated river. Begaye said that three residents have committed suicide since the accident. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told the Indian Affairs committee that the disaster was “tragic and unfortunate,” but also called the EPA’s clean-up efforts “robust.” If successful, the legislation will establish the Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims as a division within the EPA, which will manage compensation efforts under the provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act. Luján introduced a form of the bill in the House of Representatives as well.
Udall said in Tuesday’s interview that he hoped the bill, which contains no attachments, has bipartisan support. One Republican, New Mexico Representative Steve Pearce, has given his support to the idea of an EPA compensation fund for the spill’s victims. Republican Senators, including committee chair Senator John Barrasso, (R-WY), along with John McCain (R-AZ), and Steve Daines (R-MT) took turns at lambasting McCarthy last week for both the disaster and the EPA’s response. McCain was especially critical of the fact that it took two days before the Navajo Nation was notified of the spill and that McCarthy could not name a single person who was fired over the incident. Udall and Heinrich are also planning on introducing a separate bill to reform the U.S.’s mining laws which have remained relatively unchanged since 1872. Provisions in the bill will require mining companies to pay royalties on extracted minerals to help fund future cleanup efforts of abandoned mines.
Albuquerque Journal – Michael Coleman
Grand Canyon News – Charles McConnell
The Durango Herald/Associated Press – Susan Montoya Bryan