DENVER– A resolution directed toward Congress, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado attorney general is being drafted by members of the Colorado Legislature, who are unsettled by EPA’s decision last week to forgo paying damages caused by the Gold King Mine spill.
While the resolution will not hold real power, it is intended to motivate the federal agency and Congress to resolve the issue equitably for constituents in Southwest Colorado, and it represents the next step toward recuperating losses for private entities harmed by the August 2015 spill, said Colorado state Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose.
“The attorney general and I will keep an eye on it, and we’re not going to let this go unchallenged,” Coram said.
Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, said there is a lot of anger at the Capitol over the EPA’s decision but also a touch of apathy.
“If you don’t live there, you don’t see what’s going on,” McLachlan said. “I think a lot of people just look at it and go, ‘oh well, somebody else’s district.’”
McLachlan said she will be meeting with Coram Thursday to discuss the content of the resolution before she signs on as a sponsor.
Other than the resolution, it is unclear if anything else can be done through state legislation.
“We’re going to be talking about it,” said House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Denver. “I think everyone was disappointed that the EPA took that position, and we’re going to be having an ongoing discussion about it and find out what our options are.”
While the state cannot change the sovereign immunity protecting the EPA in this case, one step it could take is to increase funding for the cleanup of legacy mines to prevent such disasters in the future, Becker said. “It’s one of those things that gets left behind until there actually is a catastrophe.”
But where would this funding come from when the Legislature is already scrambling to come up with money for education and transportation infrastructure across the state?
“There’s a lot of competing priorities, and we’ve seen tremendous growth in the state of Colorado,” said House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. “We have an incredible quality of life where people want to be here, but we need to figure out how we can reach common ground to make sure that quality of life continues.”
If funding were available to clean up legacy mines, a regulatory framework would be needed to ensure operating mines were capable of remediation, Becker said.
But these options do little to address the requests of residents of Southwest Colorado.
“I think it’s something we need to look at. I don’t think we have an answer for you today,” Becker said.