Judge denies contractor's motion in Gold King Mine lawsuits
Part of motion by Environmental Restoration dismissed
- The St. Louis-based company was among those named in separate lawsuits filed in 2016 by the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.
- The state and the tribe are seeking compensation for the claims filed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
- Environmental Restoration sought to dismiss the complaints and argued it was not liable for damages because it was not an operator, arranger or transporter.
FARMINGTON — A federal judge in Albuquerque ruled Monday that certain claims can proceed in consolidated civil lawsuits filed against a contractor for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo dismissed part of a motion filed by Environmental Restoration LLC, one of the companies contracted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct environmental remediation at the mine.
The state and the tribe claim environmental and economic damages have occurred due to the EPA and its contractors releasing more than three million gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed as the result of a breach at the mine.
The state and the tribe are seeking compensation for the claims filed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or CERCLA.
Environmental Restoration sought to dismiss the complaints and argued it was not liable for damages because it was not an operator, arranger or transporter as defined under CERCLA.
Armijo ruled Environmental Restoration cannot be released from the lawsuit, and the state and the tribe's claims can proceed.
She also denied the company's motion to strike the tribe's request for punitive damages.
An official with Environmental Restoration did not respond to a request for comment today.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate issued a joint statement on Wednesday regarding the court decision.
"We are pleased that our lawsuit against EPA's contractor, Environmental Restoration LLC, will proceed and we look forward to continuing to work alongside the Navajo Nation to recoup the damages done to our environment, cultural sites and our economy," the statement said.
The tribe called the decision "victorious" in its press release on Wednesday.
"This is an important landmark in our fight to hold the parties responsible for the harms caused by their negligent and reckless conduct. We will continue to push ahead with renewed strength and resolve," Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch said in the release.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.