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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.

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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.”

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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.
 

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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/ 


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.

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