Sheep Mountain Alliance (@sheepmtn), a grassroots citizens organization, initiated a citizen enforcement suit against PacifiCorp in federal court last Monday, Dec. 12 that asks the Oregon-based utility corporation to stop discharging pollutants into the San Miguel River and violating the Clean Water Act.
The suit alleges that PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company owned by Berkshire Hathaway, violated the conditions of its federal discharge permit at the Silver Bell tailings site, allowing contaminants to enter the Howard Fork of the San Miguel River for the past five years. PacifiCorp, which owns the Silver Bell tailings site and has financial responsibility for its cleanup, began remediating the site in 1998. Citizens are allowed to file enforcement actions under federal law as a means of holding polluters accountable if their permits are not being enforced by regulators.
“Unfortunately, PacifiCorp has failed to meet the standards of its federal discharge permit at the Silver Bell site, and over the past five years PacifiCorp has repeatedly allowed excessive pollutants to enter the Howard Fork of the San Miguel,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “These problems could have been fixed but they haven’t been, and PacifiCorp needs to be held accountable for these violations.”
The types of pollutants reportedly being discharged into the Howard Fork include acid drainage, suspended solids, heavy metals, and excessive iron. Typically associated with hard rock mining contamination, these pollutants enter streams and wetlands and degrade overall water quality in the San Miguel basin as well as contribute to localized problems that can harm fish and aquatic life.
In October, SMA had notified PacifiCorp that it would file suit in 60 days if the company did not take action to correct the problems at the Silver Bell site. Although the 60-day notice period is intended to provide the responsible company time to address Clean Water Act violations without legal penalty, SMA’s suit alleges PacifiCorp has not fixed the problems.
“The pollution of the San Miguel from this site has been going on for years,” White said. “Sheep Mountain Alliance wants to make sure that PacifiCorp not only complies with the law, but fixes the problem permanently. The health of the San Miguel River is too important to ignore and we have to be vigilant in holding them accountable.”