N.M. sues Colo. over pollution from Gold King mine spill

By Dylan Brown | 06/24/2016 01:08 PM EDT

New Mexico sued Colorado yesterday, urging the Supreme Court to hold its neighbor “directly responsible” for mining pollution spilling across the two states’ shared border.

New Mexico sued Colorado yesterday, urging the Supreme Court to hold its neighbor "directly responsible" for mining pollution spilling across the two states’ shared border.

The complaint linked to last year’s devastating Gold King mine spill was filed earlier this week, roughly a month after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) sued U.S. EPA over the Aug. 5 disaster that discharged 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage into the Animas and San Juan rivers. The rupture at the central Colorado mine sent toxins downstream into New Mexico and Utah (Greenwire, May 24).

"The Gold King Mine release is the result of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price," Balderas said in a statement today. "New Mexicans rely on the Animas and San Juan Rivers for drinking water, ranching, farming, tourism and much more, so our communities must be compensated and protected from future health and safety risks."


The New Mexico Environment Department accused Colorado of employing a "risky strategy" when it approved plugging abandoned mine shafts like Gold King with bulkheads to contain wastewater drainage. After the Gold King spill, Colorado officials "downplayed" the downstream impacts of contamination linked to their approach to acid mine drainage, according to New Mexico officials.

"They, essentially, authorized the transformation of Colorado mines into an enormous wastewater storage facility, ready to burst," New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn said. "We’re fighting for New Mexicans to hold Colorado accountable for their shortsighted and reckless actions."

The office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told the Associated Press it was disappointed New Mexico selected "costly and time-consuming litigation."

"While the Gold King Mine spill was a striking reminder throughout the West that there are thousands of abandoned mines that would benefit from joint cleanup efforts, the litigation doesn’t impact our commitment to addressing the challenges posed by historic mine drainage," Hickenlooper’s office said in a statement.

New Mexico’s complaint argues Colorado shares the blame for the Gold King spill with EPA, whose contractors conducted the excavation that triggered the spill, because estimates of the amount of water built up inside the Gold King mine were made "in consultation with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety," according to the Interior Department’s "Technical Evaluation of the Gold King Mine Incident."

"It was incorrectly concluded that the water level inside the mine was at a similar elevation, a few feet below the top of the adit roof," the report states. "This error resulted in development of a plan to open the mine in a manner that appeared to guard against blowout, but instead led directly to the failure."

Flynn said that New Mexico’s attempts to work with EPA and Colorado were unsuccessful and that Colorado leadership "seems intent on defending EPA at every turn."