- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2016

DENVER — The New Mexico Attorney General has filed a bill of complaint with the U.S. Supreme Court against the state of Colorado over last year’s Gold King Mine spill, arguing that Colorado contributed to the resulting contamination with its “reckless actions” and lax oversight.

The complaint, filed Monday directly with the nation’s highest court, comes after “discussions and negotiations” between the states failed to produce an agreement, according to a Thursday statement from New Mexico officials.

“The Gold King Mine release is the result of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement. “New Mexicans rely on the Animas and San Juan rivers for drinking water, ranching, farming, tourism and much more, so our communities must be compensated and protected from future health and safety risks.”

An Interior Department technical review attributed the Aug. 5 spill to the failure of the crew, led by the Environmental Protection Agency, to gauge the water level behind a wall of debris before beginning excavation, but the report also said the project was supervised by Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mine Safety staff.

In addition, Mr. Balderas cited “two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price.”

The reclamation project wound up uncorking 3 million gallons of toxic orange contamination into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado, which was carried downstream into the San Juan River in New Mexico.

New Mexico officials cited past Colorado decisions to plug leaky mining tunnels with bulkheads to stop acidic drainage.

“Colorado was fully aware of the enormous risks to downstream communities associated with their failed strategy of plugging drainage tunnels. They, essentially, authorized the transformation of Colorado mines into an enormous wastewater storage facility, ready to burst. We’re fighting for New Mexicans to hold Colorado accountable for their short-sighted and reckless actions,” said New Mexico environment secretary Ryan Flynn in a statement.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said Thursday she had “done what I can within the bounds of my power and authority as Attorney General to resolve this matter without litigation.”

“It is unfortunate that New Mexico has chosen to sue the State of Colorado over the Gold King Mine spill when it was EPA’s actions that sent acidic mine drainage pouring into the Animas River last August,” said Ms. Coffman in a statement. “It is unclear to me how suing Colorado furthers the states’ mutual goal of holding the EPA to its promise to ‘take full responsibility’ for turning our rivers yellow.”

Last month, New Mexico sued the EPA, an agency contractor and two mining companies over the accident, citing harm to residents, farmers and local businesses. Colorado and Utah, which was also affected by the spill, have not taken legal action so far against the EPA.

“This lawsuit is a total embarrassment for Gov. John Hickenlooper and his administration and proof we should defund the EPA,” said Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of the free-market group Advancing Colorado. “The EPA and official crews dumped millions of gallons of toxic waste into our river system, and millions of people have been hurt. Colorado officials and politicians repeatedly attempted to downplay the toxic waste spill. New Mexico’s lawsuit is going to put reckless government on trial.”

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