From The Albuquerque Journal (Dan Boyd):
While Colorado’s attorney general cited the ruling as proof the lawsuit should not have been filed, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas indicated the legal fight may not be over yet.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the state of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses,” AG’s office spokesman James Hallinan said.
The lawsuit, filed roughly a year ago, alleged Colorado was too lax in its oversight of groundwater contaminated by decades of mining and should be held responsible for the fallout of the Gold King Mine spill.
The U.S. Supreme Court, on an 8-1 vote, denied a motion to hear the case. The nation’s highest court did not provide a reason for its decision, but has also opted not to intervene in other recent interstate disputes, including a 2016 lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado’s legal marijuana laws…
In addition to the lawsuit against Colorado, New Mexico has also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the EPA and the owners of the Gold King Mine that seeks more than $136 million in damages. That amount would include money to pay for economic losses the state attributes to the mine spill, specifically in the tourism, recreation and agriculture sectors.
From ColoradoPolitics.com (Peter Marcus):
The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the state Environment Department announced last year that it filed a complaint against Colorado with the U.S. Supreme Court. It sought damages and demands that Colorado address problems at draining mines in southwest Colorado.
Former New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn alleged that his water quality researchers rejected assertions from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado environment officials that the Animas River quickly returned to safe pre-event conditions after the August 2015 spill of toxic heavy metals.
Flynn and attorneys for his department at the time suggested that Colorado is liable for the incident, which spilled 3 million gallons of sludge into the Animas in Durango, turning it a mustard yellow color. The spill fouled rivers in three Western states with arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.
The EPA acknowledged fault in the spill, in which sludge flowed into creeks and rivers during restoration work at Gold King. The flow headed into the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah…
The Supreme Court was an appropriate venue for the case against Colorado, as it involved two states suing each other. But the high court declined to hear arguments in the case, though it did not issue an opinion explaining the decision. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would let the lawsuit move forward.
From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
New Mexico’s petition to hold Colorado responsible for the Gold King Mine spill nearly two years ago was denied Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Because it was the EPA and not Colorado that caused the Gold King Mine disaster, I have said from the beginning that New Mexico should not have sued Colorado in the Supreme Court,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a prepared statement.
“Now that my office has won the Supreme Court case, I hope the conversation can focus on the EPA and its promise to take full responsibility for its actions.”
In its lawsuit, New Mexico claimed the Gold King spill was the “coup de grâce of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price.”
The complaint specifically called out a decision reached by the state of Colorado and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to shut down a water treatment plant in favor of placing bulkheads at the entrance of the American Tunnel, Sunnyside’s drainage point.
It’s believed among most researchers familiar with the Animas watershed that the bulkheads caused the mine pool of the Sunnyside Mine to back up and cause other mines to discharge acidic water, namely the Gold King.
Regardless, Coffman, in response to the filed complaint, said she tried to resolve the matter without litigation, calling New Mexico’s lawsuit against the state “unfortunate.”
“It’s unclear to me how suing Colorado furthers the states’ mutual goal of holding the EPA to its promise to ‘take full responsibility’ for turning our rivers yellow,” she said…
“The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the State of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses,” James Hallinan, spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said in an emailed statement.
“Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill.”
The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss New Mexico’s petition is the latest lawsuit to fail in the long line of litigation in the wake of the spill.
On Jan. 13, the EPA rejected $1.2 billion in claims of damages from private businesses and individuals, citing federal law that encourages “government agencies to take action without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action.”
To date, the EPA has spent more than $29 million in response to the Gold King Mine spill, with most of those funds used to stabilize the mine adit and mitigate ongoing acid mine drainage through a temporary water treatment plant, Amy Graham, an agency spokeswoman said Monday.
A total of $3.7 million has been awarded to state, tribal and local governments for emergency response costs, and another $2 million was provided to states and tribes for water quality monitoring, Graham said.
From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):
The problem of toxic waste from abandoned mines flowing into rivers isn’t limited to just the Gold King Mine.
In Colorado alone, more than 200 abandoned mines collectively leak over a million gallons of wastewater every day. The pollution includes things like heavy metals, arsenic and sulfuric acid.
Last week, the Denver Post reported that EPA officials are trying to stop contamination of the Animas River from the abandoned Red and Bonita Mine, which currently discharges 300-gallons per minute of wastewater into the Animas River…
There are more than 15,000 abandoned mines across New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
According to that agency’s website, “The numbers of abandoned mines in the state are so numerous that one can only guess at the quantity. Some of them are small and not considered dangerous. Others are extremely dangerous.”
James Hallinan, spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, emailed a statement:
“The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the State of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses. Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill.”