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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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
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.”
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
February 5, 2019
Yesterday, Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes met with the leadership of the Navajo Nation, reported on the proceedings of the ICWA lawsuit, and signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement (between DCFS & Navajo Nation) with Governor Gary R. Herbert.
The Agreement is the result of a two-year process working
with the Navajo Nation on the principles of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
It states the intent to support the fundamentals of ICWA, to adhere to the
tribal processes concerning families and children, and to ensure that when a
Navajo child is unable to return home, they will be placed with a Navajo
Both the Agreement signed by Governor Herbert and Attorney General Reyes, and the actions of Attorney General Reyes in defending ICWA, exemplify Utah’s faith in our first nations and desire to preserve ancient languages and traditions.
Check out the coverage below:
Deseret News: Navajo Nation Lauds Utah for Pledge to Keep Native Families Intact
Utah Governor’s Office: Inter-Governmental Agreement Signed by Utah and the Navajo Nation
KSL: Navajo Nation Lauds Utah for Pledge to Keep Native Families Intact
Photos from the signing & meetings: