Washington, D.C. - Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Tom Udall (D-NM) along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Martin Heinrich (D-NV), and John McCain (R-AZ) today introduced an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to address the response costs associated with the Gold King Mine spill, and direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work with affected States, Indian tribes, and local governments on a long-term water quality monitoring program of the rivers contaminated by the spill. The Gold King Mine spill occurred on August 5, 2015 and resulted in the EPA's release of three million gallons of contaminated water into the Cement Creek, affecting waterways in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the Southern Ute reservation, and the Navajo Nation.
The bipartisan amendment expedites the reimbursement of emergency response costs assumed by States, Indian tribes, local governments, and individuals following the spill, and is intended to include costs that did not conclude by October 31, 2015. The EPA has stated the agency will not reimburse response costs after this date apart from limited exceptions.
Additionally, the amendment requires the EPA to pay out all costs eligible for reimbursement unless the agency proves with substantial evidence that the cost is not consistent with what is typically reimbursed under federal law. The measure also requires the EPA to pay out all claims within 90 days and notify parties as to whether or not it will pay the claim within 30 days of reaching its decision. Lastly, the amendment establishes a water quality monitoring program and authorizes the EPA to reimburse the States, Indian tribes, and local governments for this monitoring activity.
"It's been more than a year since the Gold King Mine spill and it's unacceptable that the EPA still hasn't fully reimbursed Colorado communities for their costs. We've been pushing the EPA to fulfill their long overdue commitment to the State, Indian tribes, and local governments who responded quickly to the spill," Bennet said. "The communities in southwest Colorado paid out of their own pockets to maintain drinking water, provide for extra staffing costs, keep the public updated, provide water for irrigation, and monitor water quality. This amendment ensures that the EPA fully reimburses these communities and works collaboratively to institute a robust long-term water quality monitoring plan."
"The EPA is responsible for the Gold King Mine spill, and therefore I'll fight to hold the agency fully liable and to the same standard as a private company," said Gardner. "It is unacceptable the EPA has not fully reimbursed all costs associated with the spill and that's why I authored an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act that requires the EPA to expeditiously pay out all States, tribes, and individuals for emergency action in response to the spill. Furthermore, the EPA must work in coordination and pay for long-term water quality monitoring, and this measure makes sure of it. I'm proud to lead a bipartisan group of Senators, whose constituents have also been affected, in demanding accountability and transparency from the EPA and fighting to ensure all outstanding costs are addressed."
"The Navajo Nation and many others in the Northwestern corner of New Mexico were devastated by the Gold King Mine spill over a year ago, and this bipartisan measure will help repair some of the many mistakes that have been made since then. Although the EPA has publicly taken responsibility, it has not done enough to make things right. Reimbursements for response costs to Tribal and state governments have taken far too long, and the state and federal government have struggled to set up and fund transparent, long term monitoring of the rivers to avoid a future public health crisis," Udall said. "This amendment requires the EPA to begin the process of reimbursing the Navajo Nation and the state of New Mexico. It also takes important steps to help rebuild confidence in the quality of the water in the San Juan and Animas rivers through longterm monitoring. But this is just a beginning - many Navajo farmers and others across the region have not seen a dime to compensate them for their losses. More needs to be done to compensate individuals for the damages they suffered, and I will continue fighting to ensure everyone impacted by the spill gets the help they need."
"Last year the EPA inadvertently spilled millions of gallons of waste into the Animas River in Colorado, exposing the local environment to toxic heavy metals. This spill had a significant adverse impact on many downstream communities and businesses throughout multiple Western states-including Utah. This legislation, if enacted, will instruct the EPA to reimburse states and tribes for related costs they incurred and hold EPA accountable for this spill," said Hatch.
Heinrich added, "It's been over a year and families are still recovering from of the Gold King Mine spill. The pace of reimbursement to those impacted by this terrible incident is unacceptable. This measure ensures that state, local, and tribal governments will be fully reimbursed for their emergency response costs and establishes a long-term water quality monitoring program in cooperation with local stakeholders. We must also take action to reform outdated policies in order to clean up the hundreds of thousands of similarly contaminated mines across the West and Indian Country that are leaking toxins into our watersheds. And we shouldn't wait for more disasters to strike. Western communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land, and livelihoods. Our nation owes it to these communities to clean up these sites once and for all."
"There's no question as to the EPA's responsibility for the Gold King Mine disaster, which has devastated lands and livelihoods across Indian Country," said McCain. "The Navajo Nation and other tribes should not be left on the hook to pay for the EPA's failure. This amendment would ensure that impacted states and tribes are quickly and fully reimbursed for all damages and emergency response activities connected to the Gold King Mine spill, while building a water quality and sediment monitoring system they need to protect all citizens. Most importantly, this amendment sends an important message from the United States Congress that the EPA should be held fully accountable for this disaster."