ST. GEORGE — Utah has added the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a contractor as defendants in the state’s lawsuit over a mine waste spill in Colorado that polluted rivers in three states.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office said Friday in a news release that it is still negotiating with the EPA and the contractor, Weston Solutions Inc., over damages from the spill, but it added them as defendants to preserve the state’s legal rights.
Neither the EPA nor Weston Solutions immediately responded to after-hours emails seeking comment.
Utah sued mine owners and other contractors in August seeking unspecified compensation for the 2015 spill at the Gold King Mine.
An EPA-led contractor crew on Aug. 5 inadvertently triggered the spill while excavating at the mine entrance.
More than 3 million gallons of acid wastes and toxic metals tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including the Animas and San Juan rivers. The plume reached Lake Powell in Utah nine days later.
“The Gold King Mine blowout was an avoidable disaster, and it is critical that those responsible clean up the wastes and compensate Utah for the damages,” Spencer Austin, chief criminal deputy of the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said in the statement. “We are in talks with the EPA and hope to reach a resolution soon.
“Settlement in cases of this magnitude often takes years. If litigation should become necessary, the Utah Attorney General’s Office is ready for a fight. But our hope is to reach an agreement to work together with the EPA to protect our environment.”
With the amended complaint, the lawsuit names 10 parties as defendants, including three EPA contractors and four mine owners.
Read the complaint: 20180104 1st Amended Complaint – Utah v Gold King Mines et al.
In what the Attorney General’s Office’s statement characterized as a “cooperative approach” with the EPA, Utah has received more than $1 million from the agency for reimbursement of expenditures related to initial emergency response and monitoring.
“The EPA … has been particularly responsive and willing to take responsibility for the mining blowout,” the statement said. “We will continue to work closely with the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice to assess and monitor damages, devise a remediation plan or other remedies and attempt to settle this case.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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