Contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency who tried to avoid responsibility for the Gold King Mine Blowout that spilled 3 million gallons of toxic mining waste into rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah have lost their bid with a federal judge.
Chief Judge William P. Johnson of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico denied motions by Environmental Restoration LLC and Weston Solutions to dismiss the lawsuits filed against them. The two firms were EPA’s contractors performing work at the southern Colorado Gold King Mine when they triggered a massive spill. The judge rejected their arguments that they should not have to pay for the cleanup and environmental damages.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the ruling was about “holding them responsible.”
“EPA and its contractors must obey the rule of law that the ‘polluter pays,’” Reyes said in the release. “The impact of their hazardous release may last for generations and cannot simply be abandoned in Utah. If they want to resolve this, they should immediately begin environmental remediation, instead of arguing in court to escape their responsibilities.”
The court granted an uncontested portion of the motion related to claims by New Mexico and Navajo Nation for joint and several liability.
The lawsuits allege that EPA and its contractors caused the blowout and its release of hazardous waste into the Animas and San Juan Rivers and in Lake Powell, resulting in one of the largest inland pollution events in the nation’s history.
The court rejected the contractor’s arguments to evade responsibility, followed its similar decision on Feb. 29 to deny the EPA’s motion to dismiss.
The two contracting firms argued the state tort claims against them should be dismissed on he grounds the claims for damages were preempted by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund act.
“The Court denies the EPA Contractor Defendants’ motion to dismiss the state tort claims on the basis that they are shielded by the government contractor defense,” wrote the judge. “The Court, having reviewed the allegations and relevant Colorado law, and taking the factual allegations in the Complaint as true, finds that the allegations are sufficient to state plausible claims for relief.”
“The Court’s decision is an important step towards restoring our environment and protecting the communities impacted by the Gold King Mine disaster,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said in the press release. “It’s time for the EPA and its contractors to accept responsibility and do what is right. Instead of wasting time and money on litigation, let’s turn attention and resources to cleaning up the contamination from the blowout.”