Pruitt says the agency “walked away” from Colorado af­ter the Gold King Mine spill.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jesse Paul

Dur­ing a visit to Colorado, En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief Scott Pruitt says his agency “walked away” af­ter the Gold King Mine spill. He vowed to clean up the site and said he will re-eval­u­ate re­jected dam­age claims.

En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency chief Scott Pruitt says his agency “walked away” from Colorado af­ter the Gold King Mine spill un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, vow­ing Fri­day to make a fed­eral cleanup of the Gold King and other aban­doned mines around Sil­ver­ton a pri­or­ity.

He also said he will re-eval­u­ate re­jected dam­age claims — to­tal­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars — made in the dis­as­ter’s wake.

Pruitt vis­ited the site Fri­day with a del­e­ga­tion of Colorado’s top politi­cians on the eve of the two-year an­niver­sary of the EPAtrig­gered dis­as­ter. He said that he planned to meet with pri­vate cit­i­zens im­pacted by the spill, as well as lo­cal lead­ers, to get first­hand in­for­ma­tion on his agency’s re­sponse.

“I’ve al­ready sent out a let­ter to all the claimants who have filed claims ask­ing them to re­sub­mit,” Pruitt told The Denver Post in a phone in­ter­view ahead of his visit to the Gold King. “Some of those folks I’m sure I’ll meet to­day, and I’m look­ing for­ward to speak­ing with them di­rectly. Farm­ers and ranch­ers, busi­ness own­ers, the recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties that oc­cur on the An­i­mas River — all were im­pacted, and from my per­spec­tive it was a wrong that we need to make right.”

Re­me­di­a­tion will take place at the scores of sites that have leeched mil­lions of gal­lons of heavy metal-laden wa­ter from the Gold King and sur­round­ing mines, Pruitt said, de­spite Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed fund­ing cuts to the EPA’s Su­per­fund cleanup pro­gram. Sil­ver­ton’s lead­ers have ex­pressed con­cern about the EPA’s ef­forts tak­ing too long or be­ing de­layed in­def­i­nitely.

“I can ab­so­lutely com­mit that this will be a pri­or­ity,” Pruitt said. “I’ve shared with Congress that if money is a con­cern about ful­fill­ing our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der Su­per­fund, I will ad­vise them.”

In Jan­uary, the EPA an­nounced it would not pay dam­age claims from the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King spill, con­clud­ing that sov­er­eign im­mu­nity pro­tects the agency team that was work­ing on the mine when it trig­gered a 3 mil­lion-gal­lon del­uge.

Pruitt called that a “wrong” that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to fix. The EPA sent let­ters to 77 claimants whose claims were pre­vi­ously de­nied, ex­plain­ing that the agency will re­con­sider.

“I think it’s safe to say if this had been any other com­pany, a BP­type of sit­u­a­tion, there would have been an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that would en­sue by the agency and

there would have been ac­count­abil­ity,” Pruitt said. “That didn’t take place here. The fed­eral govern­ment should not be able to hide be­hind sov­er­eign im­mu­nity when the facts don’t meet the pro­tec­tions. Here, the peo­ple of Colorado were harmed. The peo­ple of Utah, the peo­ple of New Mex­ico were harmed.”

He added: “In my es­ti­ma­tion, the EPA walked away from those folks and left them in a po­si­tion of in­cur­ring dam­ages with­out tak- ing ac­count­abil­ity.”

Pruitt was joined dur­ing Fri­day’s tour by Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Ben­net and Cory Gard­ner, as well as Gov. John Hick­en­looper. U.S. Rep. Scott Tip­ton, RCortez, and Colorado At­tor­ney Gen­eral Cyn­thia Coff­man also at­tended.

Gard­ner, Ben­net, Tip­ton and Hick­en­looper, along with EPA of­fi­cials, also met with con­stituents in Du­rango at a 2 p.m. town hall, where of­fi­cials said they were en­cour­aged by Pruitt’s visit.

“What we can­not al­low to have hap­pen is for there to be the (Su­per­fund) des­ig­na­tion and for there not to be the money,” Ben­net said. Hick­en­looper said he plans to en­sure Pruitt de­liv­ers on his prom­ises.

The EPA would not con­firm Pruitt’s visit to the Gold King un­til Fri­day.

The Gold King spill turned the An­i­mas River a mus­tard-yel­low color as sludge moved down the wa­ter­way — through Colorado, New Mex­ico, Utah and Amer­i­can In­dian land — and even­tu­ally reached the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

The an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter is Satur­day. In Septem­ber 2016, the EPA des­ig­nated the Gold King and its sur­round­ing min­ing sites for Su­per­fund cleanup fol­low­ing years of com­mu­nity push­back.

Gard­ner in­vited Pruitt to tour the Gold King in March, weeks af­ter his nom­i­na­tion to lead the EPA was con­firmed.

There are 144 dam­age claims from the mine spill still pend­ing, in­clud­ing those un­der re­con­sid­er­a­tion. For the ones un­der re­con­sid­er­a­tion, the EPA says it has six months to act.

“The mes­sage here: We’re tak­ing steps of ac­count­abil­ity where the past ad­min­is­tra­tion took no steps,” Pruitt said. “The voices of Coloradans were not heard be­fore.”

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