The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it was all an accident when its team breached the Gold King Mine and spilled 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River. It says the water quality returned to normal just weeks after wastewater laden with more than 880,000 pounds of metals hit the river Aug. 5.
It says there’s no reason to monitor the water quality for more than a year or to make sure it’s safe for more than recreation. And it says EPA folks are up to the task.
That’s quite a tidal wave of effluent.
And what a relief that some New Mexico leaders are shoring up the old idiom “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Not only has the state told the EPA it intends to sue the agency, the state of Colorado and the owners of two Colorado mines over the spill, New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn has rejected claims that “everything is back to normal” and has said the agency needs to treat the spill as a human health issue because storms stir up the toxic sediment “and we’re seeing the levels of lead and other metals in the river increase well above safe drinking water standards.”
At the federal level, Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has introduced legislation to set up an independent inquiry into who was responsible for the Gold King Mine disaster (an internal email says the EPA team intentionally removed a dirt and rock plug from the mine’s entrance). It would also help “expedite claims for parties injured as a result of the spill. Lastly, the bill prevents a clear conflict of interest by allowing the state, instead of the EPA, to carry out a long-term water quality monitoring plan.”
The rest of the state’s congressional delegation is urging the EPA to process reimbursement claims from the state and the Navajo Nation, set up a claims office to start processing compensation for victims and approve a long-term water monitoring plan acceptable to the state.
The mine spill fouled rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with millions of gallons of wastewater loaded with lead, arsenic and other contaminants. While the EPA wants to let responsibility for the disaster as well as residents’ safety flow downstream and become a local problem, Flynn, Pearce and others are right to step into the breach and demand federal accountability.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.