Skip to content
Main Menu
Utah Attorney General
Search
Attorney General
Sean D. Reyes
Utah Office of the Attorney General
Alerts
Close
Secondary Navigation

Gold King Lawsuit to Proceed Against Mine Owners for Environmental Damages

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 27, 2019
 

GOLD KING LAWSUIT AGAINST MINING COMPANIES AND EPA CONTRACTOR TO PROCEED FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANUP AND DAMAGES
Latest rulings clear the path for the State of Utah’s lawsuit


SALT LAKE CITY – Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the State of Utah’s lawsuit against three mine owners and one EPA contractor will proceed arising from their roles in causing the Gold King Mine Blowout in August 2015. The resulting massive spill of three-million gallons of toxic mining waste contaminated rivers in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. Utah and other affected states and private parties assert that the EPA, its contractors, and the mining companies share responsibility for the release of hazardous wastes into the Animas and San Juan Rivers and in Lake Powell, causing one of the largest inland pollution events in the nation’s history.
 
Judge William P. Johnson of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico denied motions to dismiss filed by mining companies Sunnyside Gold Corporation, Kinross Gold USA and Kinross Gold Corporation, and EPA’s contractor Harrison Western Construction Corporation. He ruled the case will proceed under the Clean Water Act and Colorado tort law, among other laws, instead of applying Utah’s state civil penalty statutes. The Court also confirmed the availability of punitive damages. The Court rejected the companies’ arguments that they should escape liability for the Blowout.
 
“The Court’s decision is a win for our environment and for our efforts to protect the health and safety of the communities impacted by the Blowout,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert. “While we were forced to go to court, we prefer cooperation and urge the EPA and the other responsible parties to work together to clean up their contamination in Utah.”

“Our citizens and our environment benefit from this legal decision to move our case forward,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes. “We have a duty to enforce the environmental laws, to protect and preserve our natural resources, and to provide a legacy for future generations of Utahns.”
 
Yesterday’s decision is the third of a series of decisions Utah has won following similar rulings by the Court on February 29 and March 20, which denied motions to dismiss by EPA and its other contractors.

# # #


NOTES:

1. Chief Judge William P. Johnson of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico Memorandum Opinion and Order regarding Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold U.S.A Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Memorandum-Opinion-and-Order-Mining-Defendants.pdf.

2. Chief Judge William P. Johnson of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico Memorandum Opinion and Order regarding Harrison Western Construction Corporation’s Motion to Dismiss State of Utah’s First Amended Complaint: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Memorandum-Opinion-and-Order-Harrison-Western.pdf.

3. March 1, 2019 Utah Attorney General’s Office press release regarding the Court’s decision to deny the EPA’s arguments to avoid responsibility: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/gold-king-lawsuit-to-compel-epa-cleanup-will-proceed/

4. March 21, 2019 Utah Attorney General’s Office press release regarding the Court’s decision to deny the EPA’s contractors arguments to escape liability: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/epa-contractors-gold-king-spill/


Track the media coverage below:

Salt Lake Tribune: Utah wins early rounds in lawsuit over 2015 Gold King Mine spill

Lawsuit Against EPA Contractors Responsible for Gold King Spill to Proceed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 21, 2019

 

Lawsuit Against EPA Contractors Responsible for Gold King Spill to Proceed
Federal judge rebuffs effort by EPA’s contractors to escape liability

SALT LAKE CITY – A federal judge rejected efforts by EPA’s contractors to avoid responsibility for their role in causing the Gold King Mine Blowout, a massive spill of three-million gallons of toxic mining waste in August 2015 that contaminated rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The companies—Environmental Restoration LLC and Weston Solutions—were EPA’s contractors at the Gold King Mine, who participated in planning and performing the work that triggered the Blowout. Chief Judge William P. Johnson of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico denied the companies’ motions to dismiss lawsuits filed by the states and private parties, rejecting the companies’ arguments that they should not have to pay for the cleanup and environmental damages. 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 February 29 to deny the EPA’s motion to dismiss.
 
“The Court’s decision is an important step towards restoring our environment and protecting the communities impacted by the Gold King Mine disaster,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert. “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.”
 
“EPA and its contractors must obey the rule of law that the ‘polluter pays’. This lawsuit is about holding them accountable,” said Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes. “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.”

###

NOTES:

1. Chief Judge William P. Johnson of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico Memorandum Opinion and Order: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Gold-King-Mine-Contractors-Order-Opinion.pdf 

2. Two weeks ago, the Court made a similar ruling when Chief Judge William P. Johnson denied EPA’s request to escape liability for the Gold King Mine Blowout. Read the press release here: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/gold-king-lawsuit-to-compel-epa-cleanup-will-proceed/


Track the media coverage below:

Law 360: EPA Contractors Can’t Dodge Suit Over Gold King Mine Spill

Bloomberg News: EPA Contractors Face Cleanup Claims Over Gold King Mine Spill

Navajo Times: EPA’s motion to dismiss Gold King lawsuit denied

Gold King Lawsuit to Compel EPA Cleanup Will Proceed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 1, 2019

 

GOLD KING LAWSUIT TO COMPEL EPA CLEANUP WILL PROCEED
Federal judge rejects EPA’s arguments to avoid responsibility

SALT LAKE CITY – Yesterday afternoon, a federal judge denied EPA’s request to escape liability for the Gold King Mine Blowout, a massive spill of three-million gallons of toxic mining waste in August 2015 that contaminated rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Chief Judge William P. Johnson of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico denied EPA’s motion to dismiss the lawsuits filed by the states and private parties, rejecting EPA’s arguments that it was immune from liability for the cleanup and damages caused by the Blowout.  
 
EPA sought dismissal despite its prior public announcements that it accepted responsibility for the Blowout and had promised to work with the states to repair the damage. The Court pointed to Utah’s showing that EPA has taken no cleanup action in Utah to date and has no timetable to do so. EPA caused one of the largest inland pollution events in the nation’s history, causing hazardous wastes to be spread along the Animas and San Juan Rivers and in Lake Powell.
 
“This is a great victory for the environment and the communities affected by the Gold King Mine Blowout,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert. “Protecting the health of our families and the precious environment of Utah should be our shared goal with EPA. We would much prefer EPA to focus now on cleanup efforts rather than continuing to litigate.”
 
“The Court is sending a strong message that EPA must be held as equally responsible as other polluters to clean up its contamination,” said Sean D. Reyes, Utah Attorney General. “I understand these events occurred during a prior administration. But the current administration, rather than litigating, can resolve this by working with us to restore a clean environment, which is our legacy for the next generation of Utahns. Utah is only enforcing the type of environmental laws EPA is duty bound to uphold—the same type of laws EPA would be aggressively prosecuting if the polluters were private parties.”
 
The Court’s ruling comes on the same day as the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as EPA’s Administrator. A copy of the Court’s order and opinion is attached.
 

# # #

NOTES:

1. Federal District Court Judge William Johnson Memorandum Opinion and Order: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/New-Mexico-Order.pdf 

2. Frequently asked questions regarding the Gold King Mine case can be read here: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/faq-gold-king-mine/ 


Attorney General Sean Reyes Joins 20-State Coalition Urging EPA to Respect the States in WOTUS Review

SALT LAKE CITY June 20, 2017 – Attorney General Sean Reyes joined a 20-state coalition in requesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency preserve the role of the states in protecting the nation’s water sources.

The coalition filed its letter Monday as part of the EPA’s ongoing review of its Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The attorneys general outlined regulatory overreach present in the existing rule and offered suggestions to better respect the authority of states going forward.

“The WOTUS Rule is unlawful…and significantly impinges upon the States’ traditional role as the primary regulators of land and water resources within their borders,” Attorney General Reyes joined in writing. “We write to suggest how the [EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] can write a rule that respects Congress’s instruction.”

The letter requests a concrete definition of the term “waters of the United States.” In doing so, it suggests the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers should preserve the states’ role in protecting water resources, especially those within the border of individual states.

The attorneys general also suggest any final definition should adopt a framework consistent with Supreme Court precedent. That includes that federal agencies can only assert authority over permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water forming geographic features.

The letter expresses that rather than claiming jurisdiction over vast amounts of water and land, EPA and Army Corps of Engineers should consider the active role each state already plays in safeguarding its waterways.

The Obama-era regulation, if implemented, would have taken jurisdiction over natural resources from states and put it in the hands of federal agencies. This included almost any body of water, such as isolated streams, hundred-year floodplains, and roadside ditches.

Many of these states won a nationwide stay that blocked enforcement of the rule and proved crucial in providing time for a new administration to reconsider the rule.

Utah Attorney General Reyes signed the letter with West Virginia, Wisconsin, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas.

Read a copy of the letter at http://bit.ly/2tGljKk.

# # #

State of Utah to File Notice to Sue Environmental Protection Agency

SALT LAKE CITY Feb. 12, 2016 – As the investigation into the Gold King Mine spill continues, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes will file notice of claim against the federal government for its role in the disaster. Recently, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) discovered that water sample results taken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late 2015 after the spill showed elevated levels of metals. The results had not previously been shared with the State of Utah.

“From the beginning we have evaluated Utah’s legal options to ensure the EPA lives up to its promise to be fully accountable and transparent – and to make our citizens and environment whole,” said Utah Attorney General Reyes.  “After the spill, we waited to take legal action because in good faith we hoped that cooperation with the EPA could bring more rapid reimbursement and remediation.  Perhaps there is a still a chance for that to happen, but Utah needs to be in a position to file a lawsuit if the federal government is not more responsive and transparent.  The discovery that the EPA did not share relevant information is a cause for serious concern and could lead to additional claims after we have fully investigated that omission.”

The action will put all parties on notice that Utah intends to sue the federal government under RCRA and the Clean Water Act and begins the litigation process.

“It’s critical that we ensure that the EPA, and any other potentially liable entities, are held legally responsible not just for short term effects but for damage that may not be known or understood for years to come,” said AG Reyes.

Upon notice of the disaster, a team of lawyers from the Office of the Utah Attorney General lent support to the vitally important actions of its clients including the Utah Departments of Environmental Quality and Public Safety – and their Divisions of Water Quality and Emergency Management. These agencies began immediate monitoring of impacts to Utah’s waters and evaluating short and long-term health, environmental and recreational impacts to Utah citizens and tribal nations along the San Juan River.

###

U.S. Supreme Court Halts EPA’s Unlawful Power Plan

STATE OF UTAH STATEMENT ON SCOTUS STAY OF CPP

SALT LAKE CITY Feb. 10, 2016 — The State of Utah is pleased that the United States Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (the EPA) “111(d)” regulation, a landmark carbon rule for power plants. The Supreme Court’s order prohibits the EPA from implementing the rule until the states’ legal challenge is resolved by the courts.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes welcomed the Supreme Court’s action.

“Such a dramatic expansion of the EPA’s authority to regulate our economy without restraint warrants clear direction and clear legal authorization from Congress, which has not yet been granted,” said Herbert.

“This decision recognizes the dangerous impact the rule will have on our state,” said Reyes. “We all want better air quality and a healthy environment for our families and future generations, but not by bypassing Congress, violating the Clean Air Act, and ignoring meaningful input by the States.”

Led by the Attorney General’s Office, Utah joined the challenge of the  EPA’s rule, also known as the Clean Power Plan, and requested that courts overturn this unprecedented federal regulatory expansion. Utah joined West Virginia and twenty-two other states in challenging the EPA’s approach to regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that would unlawfully hinder Utah’s ability to make fundamental decisions central to the quality of life and economy growth.

###

 

 

 

 

Site SettingsSettings