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EPA seeks dismissal of mine spill lawsuit claims

EPA's motion claims agency is protected by sovereign immunity

Noel Lyn Smith
nsmith@daily-times.com
Water from the Animas River mixes with the San Juan River on Aug. 8, 2015, shortly after the Gold King Mine spill, as seen in this file photo.

FARMINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking a federal court to dismiss claims in two lawsuits filed over the Gold King Mine spill.

Last year, the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation filed separate lawsuits against the federal agency. They both claimed the EPA should be held responsible for damages from the Aug. 5, 2015, spill under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

The EPA's Feb. 13 motion to dismiss claims the agency is protected by sovereign immunity and did not have direct interaction with the mine site before the spill that released millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

MORE ON THE SPILL:

EPA says it won't pay $1.2B in mine spill claims

New Mexico sues EPA over Gold King Mine spill

Navajo Nation sues EPA for Gold King Mine spill

The motion requests the court toss three claims made by the state and two claims issued by the tribe because neither party has factually proven the EPA was an owner, operator, transporter or arranged for hazardous waste disposal prior to the spill.

Moez Kaba, one of the attorneys handling the tribe's case, declined to comment on the EPA motion. He said the tribe will file a response.

In an emailed statement, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said he will continue to "aggressively pursue litigation to obtain justice for our culturally unique population and damaged economy in order to protect New Mexico's children and families for generations to come."

Pollution from the Gold King Mine spill flows in the Animas River at Berg Park in Farmington on Aug. 8, 2015, shortly after the spill.

New Mexico in May filed a lawsuit against the EPA, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Environmental Restoration, Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and Sunnyside Gold Corp. alleging the spill hurt the state's economy and environment.

Environmental Restoration, Kinross Gold Corp., Kinross Gold USA Inc. and Sunnyside Gold Corp. have each filed dismissals to the allegations outlined in the state's case. The court has yet to rule on those requests.

The state amended its complaint in November to add tort claims against the United States as well as listing the U.S., Weston Solutions Inc. and Harrison Western Corp. as new defendants.

The Feb. 13 motion comes a month after the EPA announced it will not pay more than $1.2 billion in claims filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages caused by the spill.

Last week, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., called on new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to review the January decision, according to a press release from his office.

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