Last Thursday, New Mexico announced it plans to file suit over an Environmental Protection Agency environmental disaster that released 3 million gallons of chemical-tainted water into the Animas River.
The Denver Post reports on how the New Mexico continues to suffer from the August blowout caused by the agency at an abandoned Colorado mine:
Lead levels in municipal water supplies continue to spike after storms, New Mexico's chief environmental official, Ryan Flynn, said after filing notices of intent to sue. That's one of many longterm effects of the Aug. 5 blowout at the Gold King Mine, above Silverton in southwestern Colorado. …
"All the sediment that's been left behind, and the metals in that sediment, are having an impact on our water systems. We're seeing the levels of lead, in particular, go above the EPA safe drinking water limits … Each time we've had a stormwater even, we've seen a spike."
"From the very beginning, the EPA failed to hold itself accountable in the same way that it would a private business," he said. "The EPA caused an unprecedented disaster that may affect our state for years to come. They must take responsibility."
In addition to suing the EPA, New Mexico said it will likely also file suit against Colorado, which it says is withholding public information, and against the mine’s owners. Colorado has failed to deliver documents New Mexico requested through a Freedom of Information Act request, despite billing Santa Fe nearly $20,000 for the records.
The lawsuits against the EPA and Colorado both seem fair. Federal investigators concluded in October that the disaster was not “likely inevitable,” as the EPA initially claimed; instead, the agency failed to consider well-known risks before allowing its cleanup crew to work on the mine. It’s also shameful—and all too common—for officials at all levels of government to withhold public records or charge prohibitive fees for them.
This government-wrought disaster has always promised enormous taxpayer costs, so New Mexico’s instinct to sue broadly is wholly understandable.
But the owner of Gold King Mine, where the spill originated, shouldn’t be held responsible. As he’s widely told the media and Congress, he wanted to deny the EPA access to the mine and relented only after the agency levied $35,000-a-day fees.
The EPA has relentlessly attacked the private sector for similar accidents. The agency, not the private business owner it coerced, should be held to the same standards.