Judge denies EPA motion to dismiss Gold King Mine spill lawsuit

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Water from the Animas River mixes with the San Juan River on Aug. 8, 2015, shortly after the Gold King Mine spill.

FARMINGTON — A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss claims brought by state, federal and local governments and private entities related to damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill.

U.S. District Court Judge William P. Johnson denied the motion on Feb. 28 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its contractors and mining companies.

The spill was triggered by excavation work performed by a contractor for the EPA in August 2015. It released more than three million gallons of mine wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

New Mexico, Navajo Nation and Utah, along with residents in Aztec and on the Navajo Nation, have filed lawsuits for environmental damages and tort claims against the federal agency and its contractors and mining companies since May 2016.

The defendants requested that the court dismiss claims, arguing sovereign immunity barred the litigation.

The two states and the tribe are seeking to recover the costs of their responses to the spill under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

New Mexico officials commended the latest court decision.

James Kenney, secretary for the environment department, said the state will continue to hold the defendants responsible for the environmental and economic harms caused by the spill.

Among damages the state is seeking on its behalf and for agricultural and recreational operations is more than $130 million in lost income, taxes, fees and revenues.

"I look forward to continuing to fight for every New Mexican so that the EPA makes New Mexico whole," Attorney General Hector Balderas said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the tribe is pleased with the judge's decision.

"It's been nearly four years since the spill occurred and we are still supporting our Navajo people in that region through this lawsuit," Nez said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at