The Gold King Mine entrance area is shown on August 14, 2015

Around NM: Gold King Mine decision, spill in the Cimarron, oil and gas leases and more

The big environment story last week was an announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency saying that it can’t pay claims of more than a billion dollars in economic damages caused by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. As the AP reported on Friday:
A total of 73 claims were filed, some by farmers who lost crops or had to haul water because rivers polluted by the spill were temporarily unusable for irrigation and livestock. Rafting companies and their employees sought lost income and wages because they couldn’t take visitors on river trips. Some homeowners sought damages because, they said, their wells were affected. Tribes, including the Navajo Nation, were also affected.

Waste is transported into disposal rooms underground at WIPP.

Around NM: WIPP’s official reopening, Four Corners news, public lands and more

WIPP’S reopening

Today, Gov. Susana Martinez presided over a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico. The underground nuclear waste repository is officially back in action, nearly three years after two fires shut down operations. According to a story in last week’s Carlsbad Current-Argus, the facility’s employees started moving waste into the salt caverns last Wednesday:
Rick Fuentes, president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers Union and waste handler at the site, confirmed that two pallets of low-level radioactive waste were emplaced near Room 5 in Panel 7 at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. “It went great,” Fuentes, who did not assist in the waste emplacement, said. “We’re excited to be back to work.”

Photo of Gold King Mine spill results.Photo via Environmental Protection Agency.

US Supreme Court asks DOJ to weigh in on Gold King Mine suit

The U.S. Supreme Court wants the Department of Justice to weigh in on a lawsuit the state of New Mexico filed against the state of Colorado over the Gold King Mine spill that occurred in 2015. The Call for the Views of the Solicitor General, as the order is known, was part of orders released Monday. The Supreme Court did not grant any new cases. The call asks for the Solicitor General to weigh in on the case, though the federal government is not involved in the lawsuit. According to The Hill, the request likely will not be fulfilled before Jan.

Photo of Gold King Mine spill results.Photo via Environmental Protection Agency.

Navajo Nation sues federal government over Gold King Mine spill

The Navajo Nation announced they are suing the federal government over the Gold King Mine spill last year. The spill sent a sickly orange plume of pollution down the Animas River, from an abandoned mine in Colorado through the Four Corners area of New Mexico and into Utah. A contractor working for the Environmental Protection Agency caused the blowout. This included the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation. According to the Associated Press, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told the EPA, “We’re holding your feet to the fire.”

In all, an estimated 3 million gallons of polluted water was released into the water.

Entrance to the Gold King Mine. Photo via Environmental Protection Agency

New Mexico sues Colorado over toxic mine spill

The state of New Mexico announced a lawsuit against the state of Colorado over the Animas River spill that resulted in millions of gallons of contaminated water to flow down the river into the state’s Four Corners area. This is the second lawsuit by the state over the spill. Previously, the state announced a lawsuit against the federal government. At issue is the blowout of the Gold King Mine, where a team working for the federal Environmental Protection Agency caused the release of the toxic water from an abandoned mine near Silverton, CO. The mine is one of many abandoned mines dating back decades.

Photo of Gold King Mine spill results.Photo via Environmental Protection Agency.

State sues feds over Animas River spill

The state of New Mexico is seeking over $100 million in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for a mine blowout that led to millions of gallons of orangeish sludge flowing down the Animas River in the Four Corners area of the state. The blowout took place when a contractor with the EPA caused a blowout of an abandoned mine. The mistake by an EPA contractor caused 3 million gallons of toxic waste that had been gathering in the mine for years to flow down the Animas River, into New Mexico then to Utah. The Albuquerque Journal reported on the lawsuit, which has been pending for some time, seeks more than $136 million, most of which for lost economic activity in the state. The Navajo Nation also said after the spill they are readying a lawsuit against the federal government.

Pollution in the Animas River after the Gold King Mine spill. Wikicommons.

State says it plans to sue EPA over mine spill

The state Environment Department announced on Thursday that it intends to sue the Environmental Protection Agency and others over the Gold King Mine spill that turned the Animas River into a sickly yellow-orange, pollution-filled mess for days. A contractor, Environmental Restoration, that was working under the EPA caused the blowout in the the mine in southwestern Colorado last August. In all, three million gallons of polluted water was released from the well, which traveled down the Animas River into New Mexico and Utah. The letter of intent to sue names the EPA, the federal Bureau of Land Management, the state of Colorado, Environmental Restoration LLC, San Juan Corporation, Todd Hennis, Sunnyside Gold, Inc. and the Kinross Gold Corporation. The other companies named are the companies that owned the mine, and Hennis is the CEO of San Juan Corporation.

Pollution in the Animas River after the Gold King Mine spill. Wikicommons.

Post Gold King Mine spill, NM delegation wants mining reform

Three members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced the introduction of legislation to reform federal mining laws that have been on the books, and largely unchanged, since just after the Civil War. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined with three of their Democratic colleagues in the Senate to introduce the legislation, while Rep. Ben Ray Luján is doing the same in the House. The legislators note that the 1872 mining law allows companies to mine for gold, silver, copper, uranium and other minerals on federal land without paying royalties for extracting the resources. The legislators compare this to oil and gas where companies that drill for the resources must pay royalties to do so on public land. This legislation would require a 2 percent to 5 percent royalty rate for all new mining operations.

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. Official photo.

Time to reform Old West mining law

Martin Heinrich is a Democrat representing New Mexico in the U.S. Senate. Last month, a large plume of bright orange toxic waste spilled into the Animas and San Juan Rivers and polluted the Four Corners region. When I toured affected areas following the Gold King Mine spill, I visited with impacted residents and joined the San Juan County Fire Department to deliver water to farmers in Aztec. I was also briefed on the coordinated approach from the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies working with state, local, and tribal officials, including Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. I share the anger and frustration over this terrible accident and have demanded that the EPA act with urgency to protect the health and safety of our communities and repair the damage inflicted on the watershed.

Pollution in the Animas River after the Gold King Mine spill. Wikicommons.

Udall, Luján introduce Gold King Mine spill legislation

Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján introduced legislation designed to clean up the area affected by the Gold King Mine spill. Udall, Luján and  Martin Heinrich announced the introduction of the legislation, along with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., in a press release on Tuesday afternoon. Udall is introducing the legislation on the Senate side, while Luján is introducing the legislation on the House side. The Gold King Mine has been abandoned for decades, but a team hired by the Environmental Protection Agency caused a blowout of the mine. The blowout caused an orange plume of pollution to flow down the Animas River, from Colorado through New Mexico and Utah.