PRUITT VOWS A CLEANUP OF GOLD KING
Pruitt says the agency “walked away” from Colorado after the Gold King Mine spill.
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.”