September 22, 2015

Udall, Luján introduce Gold King Mine spill legislation

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

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.

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

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

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.

Since then, officials in the states and the Navajo Nation have been heavily critical of the response by the federal government.

“I saw the Gold King Mine spill damage firsthand, and it had a devastating impact on farmers, ranchers and families on the Navajo Nation and across San Juan County,” Udall said in a statement.“The EPA administrator told me in a Senate hearing that she is committed to ensuring there is a smooth claims process for victims and that she will prioritize funding for compensation and water quality monitoring.

“This bill will hold the EPA to that commitment by ensuring New Mexicans get the compensation they’re owed without unnecessary delay,” Udall continued. “Our bill also takes action to prevent a mistake like this from happening again — a first step toward finally reforming our outdated mining laws.”

Luján explained some of the parts of the legislation.

“By establishing an office within EPA to process and pay claims, it will help make the people of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation whole,” he said. “The bill also requires EPA to work with state, local, and tribal governments to ensure long-term water quality monitoring that will provide communities with the data needed to protect the health of all those who rely on this water.

“Finally, with a number of other mines in the region that pose an environmental risk, this bill calls for a much-needed review of abandoned mines, along with a plan for cleanup that includes steps to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future,” Luján continued.

Information from Udall on the legislation is available at the bottom of this post.

Congressional testimony

The legislation comes just days after New Mexico Environment Department secretary Ryan Flynn testified at a joint congressional hearing. Flynn said that the EPA misled the state over the materials in the pollution.

“Their [EPA’s] Plan should be to support our [New Mexico] Plan,” Flynn told Congress. “I don’t think the fox should be guarding the henhouse. They created the situation.”

Environmental groups criticized his appearance afterward.

“The Environment Department is doing exactly that with both the copper and dairy industries,” Dan Lorimier, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter conservation coordinator, said in a statement. “Under the new Dairy Rule, the dairy industry reports quarterly, and the Environment Department has said it wouldn’t even look at the reports until permits came up for review.”

Udall and Heinrich questioned EPA administrator Gina McCarthy about the spill and EPA’s response at a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing last week.

Update: Piece is updated to clarify that Luján introduced the House version of the legislation.

The Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act of 2015 by Tom Udall