- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2016

New Mexico announced Thursday that it plans to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over last year’s massive mine spill that sent toxic orange sludge into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

“From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business,” said New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn in a statement. “The EPA caused an unprecedented disaster that may affect our state for years to come; they must take responsibility.”

Mr. Flynn faulted the EPA for being insufficiently responsive after the Aug. 5 accident, in which an agency-led crew accidentally uncorked 3 million gallons of wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado.

“Because EPA headquarters continues to shirk their duties for meaningful support and collaboration, we have no choice but to turn to the justice system to hold EPA accountable to New Mexicans,” Mr. Flynn said.

New Mexico becomes the first state to announce its intention to pursue legal action against the EPA. Colorado and Utah were also affected by the spill, which sent arsenic, lead and other contaminants into water supplies used for homes and agriculture.

Mr. Flynn said his department has filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA as well as the state of Colorado and the owners of the state’s Gold King and Sunnyside mines.

He noted that New Mexico learned of the spill not from the EPA but from the Southern Ute tribe. Since then, the EPA has continued in its failure to cooperate with state and local agencies and communities,” said the New Mexico Environment Department statement.

An Interior Department investigation found that the EPA-led crew failed to gauge the water level behind debris at the mine before moving to clear it during a clean-up project.

While EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has apologized and the agency has worked with local and state officials to address the short- and long-term effects of the spill, Republicans have accused the EPA and Interior of failing to hold anyone accountable with fines, demotions or firings.

EPA spokeswoman Christie St. Clair told the Associated Press that the federal agency is reviewing New Mexico’s plans to sue.

EPA is working closely with the states to develop a long-term monitoring plan to evaluate potential environmental impacts from the spill and will be meeting with representatives in early February,” Ms. St. Clair said. “EPA is also reimbursing state and local agencies for response-related costs associated with the spill.”

Shortly after the spill, Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez launched a state investigation into the causes of the accident, which is ongoing.

The investigation is also examining how the spill affected residents, businesses and communities, including the Navajo Nation, as well as the “environmental and economic impacts of long-term contamination from the Gold King and Sunnyside mines.”

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