Outraged Westerners Look To Trump After Obama’s EPA Refuses To Pay claims From Gold King Mine Spill
The Obama Administration has left Denverites embittered after it left an obvious blight on Colorado lands—the Gold King Mine spill in Silverton. While Barack’s EPA outfit failed to take financial responsibility, Republicans are looking to Trump to do right by this injustice.
[La Plata County Sheriff's Office Staffer Dan Bender obtaining a sample from the Animas River near Durango, CO. A US-EPA crew accidentally spilled about three-million gallons of waste from the Gold King Mine into the water. | Photo: Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald | Circa August 2015]
Before Obama left office, under his authority, the Environmental Protection Agency were unwilling to pay 73 claims ($1.2 billion total) filed by various tribes, farmers, river rafters and local governments effected by the August 2015 wastewater spill. Obama’s EPA referenced “sovereign immunity” under the Federal Tort Claims Act—how convenient.
Western lawmakers were appalled and baffled at the recent decision, as they wondered what happened to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s multiple assurances the agency would assume ownership of the destruction caused by the EPA themselves—three-million gallons of mustard-colored contamination into the Animas and San Juan rivers (and three states)!
“They said they would make everyone whole, and now they’re backing away from that decision,” Durango Representative Scott R. Tipton (R-CO) said.
Simultaneously, this last-minute move enables President Trump to score points with conservationists, reimburse those who suffered from this irresponsible spill under Obama’s administration. Republican hearts are already pumping, as Oklahoma Attorney General and Trump-appointed-EPA-leader Scott Pruitt recently agreed to ensure the Obama decision gets re-examined.
“I applaud Attorney General Pruitt’s commitment to review the EPA’s decision to not process FTCA claims related to the Gold KingMine spill,” Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, said earlier in January. “The EPA is responsible for the injury and economic losses that took place in Southwest Colorado, and that’s why I’ve worked to see that the agency is held accountable and that my constituents are made whole.”
In mid-January, the EPA announced it dismissed the claims upon “an independent claims officer within the Environmental Protection Agency” confirmed the outfit “is not legally able to pay compensation for the FTCA claims.” (Really?)
“When passing the FTCA, Congress wanted to encourage government agencies to take action without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action,” the agency said. “So the act does not authorize federal agencies to pay claims resulting from government actions that are discretionary—that is, acts of a governmental nature or function and that involve the exercise of judgment.” Because you know, we don’t all live on this planet and use its resources. Maybe they’re getting their water from Mars. And the agency’s words didn’t even come close to sitting well with the Navajo Nation—their claim’s worth $160 million in damages to farms, ranches and the water supply. The spill actually flowed downstream into the New Mexico reservation.
“[The EPA] poisoned our water and now are turning their backs,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said. Begay has pledged to convince Congress and Trump’s administration to do right by everyone effected by this mess. “It is unconscionable that our farmers have been waiting nearly a year and a half for this negative decision,” Mr. Begaye added in a statement. “There is no reason our families on the front line of this spill should have to tighten their belts while the federal agencies responsible proceed along unaffected by their own actions. We plan to work with this Congress and the next administration to bring justice and accountability for our Navajo people.”
Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch gave the EPA a figurative punch to the face for their timing on things. “This was announced nearly one-and-a-half years since the EPA triggered this spill but only six days before the EPA political officials leave their posts,” she said.
[Erin Brockovich toured Navajo Nation to hear from local farmers regarding the spill. | Source: Facebook]
Even Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO.) and Senator Michael F. Bennet (D-CO.) were maddened by the Obama-outfit EPA.
“The record is clear that the Environmental Protection Agency was responsible for the spill. It is extremely disappointing that the EPA has categorically rejected every single claim filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act,” Senator Bennet said in a statement. “The agency has broken its promise to make our communities whole in the days after the spill.”
During October 2015, the Interior Department disclosed a technical review that proved the EPA-led crew failed to properly assess the water pressure behind the debris wall before removing it at Gold King Mine. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell informed the House Natural Resources Committee she knew of nobody getting terminated or punished because of this error.
According to Rep. Tipton, the outcome would’ve been different had a private company or individual caused the spill. “My opinion is yes, they probably would have been required to pay the damages if it had been a private company. They probably would have already been filing for bankruptcy, and there probably would have been a criminal investigation,” Tipton said. “I think that’s a lot of the frustration,” he added. “We see the EPA acting unilaterally and not holding itself to the same standard as the private sector.”
EPA officials pontificated on their crews being on site not long after the spill, availing help and monitoring water quality. “The EPA has taken responsibility for the Gold King Mine incident, including providing financial support, continued water treatment and monitoring, developing and implementing a permanent remedial plan for the broader mining region, and research to improve our understanding of how contaminants move through complex river systems,” the agency said.
In early January, EPA issued an assessment concluding an equal volume of metallic drainage that spewed from the mine in nine hours would have still contaminated Cement Creek in a four-to-seven-day timespan. “It would have happened anyway” the agency added. This did not cut it with Republicans. They argued the instant splash of toxic wastewater did more damage than that of a slower days-long leak.
“For the EPA now to say it’s not a big deal shows that it’s an agency that’s looking out for itself,” Tipton said, “and not looking out for the people [who] it impacts.”