Feds seek to dismiss New Mexico’s claims over Gold King Mine spill

Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 10:02 PM
Richard Charley, right, and Melvin Jones deliver water to a ranch along the San Juan River on the Navajo Reservation on Aug. 12, 2015, in Shiprock, New Mexico. Toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine in Silverton contaminated the San Juan River in Northern New Mexico from the runoff of the Animas River due to an accidental breach by a mining a safety team working for the Environmental Protection Agency.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department are asking a federal judge to dismiss claims by New Mexico and the Navajo Nation that stem from the 2015 Gold King Mine waste spill that fouled rivers in three Western states.

The Justice Department filed its motion Monday, following up on arguments first made by the Obama administration that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is protected by sovereign immunity.

The federal government contends the agency doesn’t fit the definition of a liable party.

New Mexico was first to sue over the mine spill, alleging that the agency had not taken full responsibility for triggering the spill of 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater from the mine near Silverton. The plume coursed through the Animas and San Juan rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

New Mexico officials say the government’s motion was expected.