WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision Thursday aimed at speeding up the process for damage claims from last year’s Gold King Mine spill into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.
The provision would require the Environmental Protection Agency to submit all claims from states, local governments and tribes within 180 days of the bill being enacted. Part of a broader legislative package addressing improvements to the nation’s water infrastructure, it also would authorize federal funding for a water quality monitoring program for bodies of water contaminated by the August 2015 mine spill. The plume of toxic sludge traveled from the mine down the Animas and into the San Juan River, affecting communities in four states.
The goal of the provision is to establish a quicker procedure for reimbursing claimants on damages resulting from government negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The EPA has admitted responsibility for the accident and has already granted more than a quarter million dollars to state and local officials to cover cleanup costs.
“For rural communities, families and businesses, the ability to thrive depends on having reliable access to safe and affordable drinking water,” said Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who worked with Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, to have the provision included in the legislative package. “The clean drinking water provisions in this bill will have a big impact on the 3rd (Congressional) District.”
In addition to Gold King, there are dozens of mine sources in Southwest Colorado that drain into the Animas River watershed, including 48 sites that are included Bonita Peak Mining District, which is a Superfund cleanup site.
Members of Colorado’s delegation in Washington continue to draft the “Good Samaritan” act, the congressman’s office said, which would provide an opportunity for the mining industry, state or local officials, and nonprofits to assist the EPA in cleaning up other waste sites.
The water infrastructure act, which also includes emergency funding for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and drought relief, moves to the Senate for a vote expected before the end of the year.
Alejandro Alvarez, a recent graduate of American University, is an intern for The Durango Herald. Reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @aletweetsnews.