From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):
Colorado’s top prosecutor said Tuesday that litigation in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill is an option she’s hoping to avoid as the state works to negotiate compensation after the August disaster.
But Attorney General Cynthia Coffman explained all options are still on the table as fallout continues to unfold, and that the site’s current and previous owners, as well as the owner of a nearby mine, are all potential defendants if a lawsuit is filed.
“I think we have to look at everyone involved in order to do a good job representing the state of Colorado,” she said in an interview with The Denver Post. “We look to everyone who has a piece of the puzzle and was part of the story.”
Coffman has been weighing legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency since its contractors triggered the 3 million-gallon disaster, but now appears to be taking a broader assessment of those with links to the incident.
A team of 10 attorneys in her office has been looking into the possibility of filing a lawsuit and working on possible defenses to threats of legal action against the state…
“I would say we are still in the initial phases of the process,” she said of investigating whether to take any legal action. “For the first few months, this was really the governor’s project and responsibility… We were in a holding pattern in terms of litigation.”
The attorney general’s office is reviewing the history of the Gold King and the nearby American Tunnel and Sunnyside Mine — both owned by the Canada-based conglomerate Kinross — as part of their process.
Coffman said engineered plugs in the American Tunnel, installed to limit heavy metal drainage, likely were a factor in the Gold King’s contaminated water buildup and eventual release.
Kinross said it has no role or responsibility in the spill despite claims from the Gold King’s owner, Todd Hennis, who has implicated them in the disaster.
“We will vigorously defend ourselves from any potential legal action,” said Louie Diaz, a Kinross spokesman.
Hennis bought the Gold King in 2005 after it went into foreclosure and then allowed the EPA to work on remediating the site. Agency contractors were excavating the mine’s collapsed opening when they accidentally triggered the disaster.
Hennis declined to comment on any potential legal proceedings.
Coffman said her staff has been in close contact with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office over any Gold King legal action and that their interactions have been productive.
Coffman and Hickenlooper battled in the state’s highest court over her decision to join a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, with the attorney general coming out at the victor.
Since then, Coffman said, their relationship has improved, making Gold King work easier.
“The EPA admitted responsibility, agreed to hold themselves to the same high standards they would any private business, and they were going to make good on any damages,” Hickenlooper said Tuesday. “Let’s see how well they live up to that commitment before we jump into litigation.”
Coffman said that while she still thinks the EPA could have been more transparent and accountable after the spill, it has made good strides in its response.
Now, as far is she is concerned, is time to investigate the disaster and weigh the appropriate next steps.
“This is a classic who did it,” she said. “Who is the most responsible and what are they going to pay?”