#Colorado Water Quality Control Division sets PFOA and PFOS standards

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The Water Quality Control Commission imposed standards for PFOS and PFOA, two types of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), the contaminants found in ground water as a result of Peterson Air Force Base using firefighting foam for years. The chemicals leached into the underground water supply, befouling wells and wreaking havoc on supplies in the Fountain Valley.

The standard adopted by the commission is 70 parts per trillion for PFOS and PFOA, which was proposed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Water Management Division.

“This will give regulators the authority they need to hold polluters accountable for cleaning up to that level,” the coalition said in a release. “It will also give them a much needed tool to better monitor discharge into the aquifer and prevent further … contamination of our drinking water.”

The coalition also noted that it argued successfully against Colorado Springs Utilities’ bid to exclude its solids handling facility from the protected site. Biosolids have been identified as a possible source of PFOS contamination and Utilities’ facility lies within the alluvial aquifer targeted for protection.

Down ‘The River Of Lost Souls’ With Jonathan Thompson — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:

A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.

Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?

I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.

I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

Community groups help ease the anxiety of a superfund listing

One of the many smelters that once operated in the Pueblo area. Photo credit: Environmental Protection Agency

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Colorado Smelter processed silver and lead for 25 years before it closed in 1908, leaving behind a toxic footprint that spilled out into the surrounding neighborhoods of Pueblo in southeastern Colorado.

However, it wasn’t until more than a century later that an inspection found lead and arsenic levels posed a risk to residents. An early study area included more than 1,900 potentially affected homes.

The need for a cleanup project was clear, but the community of Pueblo was torn.

Some residents were truly worried about the health effects from lead and arsenic poisoning, while others felt the problem was overblown and a major cleanup project would further strain the community’s struggling economy.

With seemingly no other options, it became apparent the only true path to cleaning up this legacy of pollution was through the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazardous cleanup project – Superfund.

One of the community’s demands from the outset was to have a seat at the table with the EPA and other partners at key moments of decision-making, so the community could guide that process from its perspective.

The people of Pueblo accomplished that by creating, through the EPA’s process, a Community Advisory Group made up of a variety of interested people, residents, landlords, environmental groups and locally elected officials.

‘A need to get diverse interests together’

The situation in Pueblo is eerily similar to Silverton’s and its connection to hard-rock mining, which defined the community a century ago but ultimately left behind a complicated mess.

The small mountain town north of Durango, with a population of about 600, largely opposed a Superfund listing for two decades, fearing it would deter future mining in the region and adversely affect tourism.

However, the path toward a Superfund designation became inevitable after the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill, when an EPA-caused mine blowout released a torrent of waste into the Animas and San Juan rivers, turning them orange.

One of the major selling points in getting Silverton’s support for the Superfund listing was a promise from the EPA that the community, filled with old miners with extensive institutional knowledge, would have a seat at the table.

Scott Fetchenheir, a geologist, former miner and San Juan County commissioner, said that since the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund was declared in fall 2016, the EPA has made good on this promise…

How CAGs work
For a CAG to be formed, a community simply needs to let EPA employees know they are interested in creating a group.

Then, it’s really up to the residents to decide how many people are in the group (the average CAG has about 15 people) and how often they want to meet.

“It’s community driven, and EPA wouldn’t want to influence how a CAG might organize or represent itself,” said Cynthia Peterson, an EPA spokeswoman who works with the Superfund site near Silverton.

Kristi Celico, an organizer and facilitator for CAGs throughout the country, says the groups are usually effective in walking the line of the variety of demands coming from a community.

“It helps put all those people in a room to help bridge those interests,” she said. “It’s a slow, painful process, but I’ve set up hundreds of (CAGs), and nine out of 10 times, it has a huge impact over time.”

Federal judge consolidates #GoldKingMine lawsuits

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Albuquerque Journal (Maggie Shepard):

A federal judge has centralized four of the lawsuits stemming from the Gold King Mine spill for hearing before a federal court in Albuquerque against the wishes of the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

Three of the suits were already seated in New Mexico, including those brought by New Mexico, residents of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. The fourth suit was brought by the state of Utah, which hoped to delay a decision on running all of the lawsuits through the same federal judge.

The New Mexico residents, part of the McDaniel lawsuit, told the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation they supported the centralization, according to the panels order issued Wednesday.

“Given the apparent complexity of the factual issues, as well as the potential for significant tag-along activity” centralization is warranted, federal Judge Sarah Vance, chair of the panel, wrote in the order.

The lawsuits target Environmental Restoration LLC, the company working on contract with the Environmental Protection Agency at the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo., in 2015 when the mine’s containment system burst and flooded the Animas River with more than 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater, including more than 500 tons of heavy metals.

The company sought to have all of the lawsuits streamlined through one jurisdiction.

But New Mexico and the Navajo Nation had hoped “informal coordination and cooperation” would suffice to keep the lawsuits moving…

The order says the four lawsuits will be heard before Chief Judge William P. Johnson’s federal court in Albuquerque in order to streamline the lawsuits by avoiding “duplicative, complex discovery” and “eliminate the potential for inconsistent ruling on sovereign immunity, government-contractor immunity, and other issues.”

Colorado’s legislature has approved legal action against the company and federal government, but an official lawsuit has not been filed.

Scott Pruitt’s @EPA drags its feet on controlling pollution — @HighCountryNews

Smog blankets Salt Lake City. Photo credit Wikimedia Commons.

From The High Country News (Maya L. Kapoor):

In Utah, the Wasatch Range forms a bowl holding Salt Lake City and the surrounding communities, where the majority of Utahns live. Each winter, a warm temperature layer known as an inversion seals the bowl shut, trapping in dangerous levels of air pollution. The gas that comes from smoke stacks and tailpipes reacts with sunlight, forming ground-level ozone, also called smog, which has long been known to cause childhood asthma and premature deaths. Some tree species also struggle to survive when smog levels get too high, says Seth Johnson, a staff attorney with the environmental advocacy nonprofit Earthjustice. “They don’t grow as well as they did. Some of them will have their leaves blacken, which is a blight.” Other Western cities such as Los Angeles and Denver, as well as more rural areas, also struggle with smog problems.

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency set tighter restrictions on the levels of smog allowed in the country, which should have gone into effect by the fall of 2017. But the EPA, under the Trump administration, has delayed implementing them. That has become a common strategy at Scott Pruitt’s EPA: When it comes to enacting new environmental regulations, the agency stalls.

“It can be sort of easy and misleading to look at these delays as bureaucratic fighting,” Johnson says. “But these matter, because these are protections that in many cases are years overdue, and they’re protections for real human beings.” Earthjustice, along with several other nonprofit organizations and states, has sued the EPA over its ozone rule delays.

The Trump administration’s push to roll back regulations is no secret: During a press conference at the end of 2017, President Donald Trump stood before columns of white printer paper stacked taller than his six-foot frame bound together by red tape. He cut the tape with golden scissors and promised to reduce the country’s regulations to “less than 1960s levels.” Most of the country’s environmental regulations didn’t exist prior to 1960, including limits on lead in drinking water and paint, benzene in gasoline, and asbestos in school buildings.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, who repeatedly sued the agency as attorney general of Oklahoma, shares his boss’s antipathy to the agency he now runs. In March of 2017, Pruitt announced that he’d asked Samantha K. Dravis to be the EPA’s regulatory reform officer, a newly created position tasked with reducing regulations. A conservative lawyer who previously worked with Pruitt in Oklahoma, Dravis once wrote an op-ed calling the Clean Power Plan a “case study in executive power unleashed and unhinged.”

Unlike outright repeals of regulations, delays can be hard to track. The EPA’s history of delayed enactment of regulations is not new, but public health and environmental organizations and states worry that the Trump administration has slowed down an already lengthy process. According to Scientific American, in Trump’s first six months in office, his administration delayed implementing 39 federal regulations and put eight others under review. Almost a third of the rules delayed or under review were under the EPA’s jurisdiction.

In the case of the ozone rule, the agency first delayed the rule by a year, pushing a deadline for identifying all the areas in the country that did not meet the new ozone standard into 2018, saying it lacked information. When environmental organizations including Earthjustice, public health organizations, and states sued, the EPA dropped its extension, but still missed the deadline for designating the smoggiest communities. According to E & E News, since November 2017, the EPA has designated most of the U.S. as within the new smog standards, but has yet to identify areas that likely don’t meet the new standard. That identification is the first legal step in creating a cleanup plan.

The plaintiffs sued again. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Great, we have a standard,’” Johnson says. “It’s another thing to make that real — to reduce harmful emissions so air is clean.”

Not everyone wants the ozone rule updated: In 2015, coal company Murray Energy challenged the rule, arguing that the updated ozone rule was unfeasible, claiming it required some areas — especially in the West — to decrease smog levels below naturally occurring ambient levels, and that the updated science on the human health effects of ozone was incorrect. “We have the law, science, economics, cold hard energy facts and the Constitution on our side,” CEO Robert E. Murray said in a press release.

With the support of industry, the EPA has also delayed implementing the Clean Power Plan, which would regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, by a year. Much of that time was spent collecting additional public comments on the plan, adding an extra step to the lengthy process.

Strategic procrastination affects Western waters as well. In February, the EPA put off enforcing the 2015 Clean Water Rule, also called Waters of the United States, until 2020. The rule clarifies which smaller water systems, such as wetlands or seasonal creeks, the Clean Water Act protects. These small water systems provide drinking water to more than 22 million Westerners. But farmers, developers and some states have resisted this expansion of the Clean Water Act, saying that the new rules infringe on private property rights and don’t allow for local variability. The EPA now plans to rewrite the rule before the deadline for enforcement sets in.

But the EPA’s delays may be losing their power, at least in front of judges. Environmental groups have successfully turned to the courts for intervention. This past July, a federal court ruled that the EPA must enforce a rule meant to curtail methane — a potent greenhouse gas — from leaking from new and modified oil and gas operations. The EPA had attempted to postpone the methane rule repeatedly.

And in March 2018, a U.S. district judge in California ruled that the EPA must finish measuring smog throughout the country by mid-July. The EPA had moved to further delay designating the San Antonio area, which is expected to be out of compliance with the new ozone standard, until mid-August. The ruling is a mixed success for plaintiffs: States had hoped that all designations would be made within a week of the court’s ruling. And the designations would not go into effect immediately. Instead, the EPA can wait two months between announcing an area’s smog pollution and taking action.

But the EPA has also turned to the courts for help in delaying regulations’ implementation. For example, in 2017, a federal court agreed to put litigation regarding the Clean Power Plan on hold, as the EPA considers how it wants to revise the plan. That stay that has been extended twice. In the meantime, no one can sue the EPA over the Clean Power Plan and pressure the agency to act.

Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor for High Country News.

@EPA orders Sunnyside Gold Corporation to conduct groundwater investigation at Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Andrew Mutter/Libby Faulk):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued a unilateral administrative order to Sunnyside Gold Corporation to conduct groundwater investigation activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site (BPMD) in San Juan County, Colo. Sunnyside Gold is a current owner and past operator of the Sunnyside Mine in the BPMD.

“EPA remains committed to advancing the investigation and cleanup of historic mining impacts in the Bonita Peak Mining District,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “The assessment of groundwater in the area is a fundamental step in identifying effective cleanup options for the site and improving water quality in the upper Animas River watershed.”

EPA issued the order to Sunnyside Gold Corporation to conduct a remedial investigation of the Bonita Peak Groundwater System, designated as Operable Unit 3, within the larger BPMD. EPA is ordering the company to complete this work so the agency can identify surface water impacts from the groundwater system, assess the condition of existing bulkheads associated with the groundwater system, determine the hydrological interconnection of the various underground mine workings, and evaluate potential cleanup options at this portion of the site.

It is anticipated that the RI will be conducted as an iterative fashion using adaptive management principles to identify opportunities for early or interim response actions as information and data is developed during the RI.

EPA’s order requires this work to begin in 2018, with some identified items being completed by the end of the year. The company has an opportunity to request a conference with the EPA to discuss the order before it becomes effective.

Additional background:

The BPMD became a Superfund site on Sept. 9, 2016, when it was added to the National Priorities List. The site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental and human health concerns.

On Dec. 8, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt named the BPMD to a list of 21 Superfund sites across the nation which are receiving his immediate and intense attention.

For more information, please visit: http://epa.gov/superfund/bonita-peak.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Figuring out where contaminated water flows through a maze of mining tunnels and natural cracks has emerged as a primary challenge for moving forward in one of the most ambitious toxic mining clean ups attempted in the West.

Sunnyside’s properties are included in the 48-site Bonita Peak Mining District cleanup launched in 2016 after the Gold King Mine spill that was accidentally triggered on Aug. 5, 2015 by EPA contractors investigating a collapsed portal…

Local officials have raised concerns that EPA officials are studying the problem to death without getting the actual clean up done.

The EPA on Thursday issued “a unilateral order” to Sunnyside, owned by Canada-based Kinross Corp., “to begin investigation of the Bonita Peak groundwater system,” said Rebecca Thomas, the Superfund project manager.

“We need to understand how water moves through the mining system — not only the man-made structures, the adits and stopes, but also how it moves through natural faults and fissures,” she said. “This is so we can understand how best to improve water quality in the tributaries of the Animas River.”

Sunnyside Gold Corp. will review the order, reclamation operations director Kevin Roach said.

“Sunnyside is not the cause of water quality issues in the Animas River and its activities in the area, including spending $30 million on reclamation over the past 30 years, have resulted in less metals in the Animas basin than would have otherwise been the case,” Roach said. “We are hoping that our remaining assets can be efficiently utilized in timely, proven and effective solutions to improve water quality rather than pointless studies or litigation.”

Colorado Legacy Land taking over at Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill

From The Canon City Daily Record (Sarah Rose):

The Cotter Corp. owned the non-operating uranium mill property south of Cañon City for decades before it was sold Friday to Colorado Legacy Land. The [Ralston Creek near Golden] Schwartzwalder Mine also was sold to the company.

Colorado’s State Radiation Program, which is part of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, is an agency that reviewed and approved the Radioactive Materials License transfer.

“… The review evaluated Colorado Legacy Land’s decommissioning funding plan and technical qualifications for site remediation, reclamation and closure, as well as routine site maintenance, radiation safety, and occupational and environmental monitoring,” stated a press release from the CDPHE. “The review determined that Colorado Legacy Land and the proposed key personnel are technically qualified to manage the Cotter mill site closure and the radioactive materials license.”

Colorado Legacy Land is a partnership between Colorado Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco Environmental Group. Colorado Legacy Land was set up to clean the Lincoln Park Superfund Site and the Schwartzwalder Mine, said Eric Williams, president of Colorado Legacy Land Stewardship.

“Alexco Environmental Group is very good at cleaning up contaminated properties around the country but particularly good with mining companies in Colorado,” Williams said, adding that Alexco helped to clean up the Gold King Mine site, which caused the Animas River to be contaminated with mining waste in 2015. “Colorado Legacy Land is a public benefit corporation. Part of our mission is to clean up contaminated properties, as well as putting those back into some productive use, typically going toward eco-friendly uses, like renewable energy or open space recreation, those kinds of things. The directors of Colorado Legacy Land have close to 100 years of experience in dealing with environmental cleanup sites and putting properties back into productive use.”

Colorado Legacy Land first expressed interest in the Lincoln Park Superfund site about a year ago.

“The process in purchasing it took a long time,” Williams said. “This was a very complex transaction because of the regulatory side of things.”

Williams said Colorado Legacy Land will “start immediately” on the cleanup process.

“We are already very much up to speed with the environmental conditions,” Williams said. “Our focus in the immediate short-term is to work with the Community Advisory Board and the regulators to continue the process of planning and the cleanup of the properties.”

Steve Cohen, who was Cotter’s mill manager for the Lincoln Park site, will continue to be the mill manager under the new management.

Cohen said many employees who worked for Cotter will stay at the mill. Cohen said there were some layoffs at the property but didn’t specify how many.

The CAG invites the public to attend its monthly meeting, where members and representatives of agencies overseeing the cleanup, discuss what’s occurring at the Lincoln Park Superfund site. The next meeting will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the Fremont County Administration Building, 615 Macon Ave. Meetings are scheduled every third Thursday of the month.