“We have received confirmation from the White House that water quality monitoring and cleanup efforts at the Gold King Mine will not be impacted in any way,” Liz Payne, spokeswoman for Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, wrote in an email Wednesday morning.
On Tuesday, local and state officials voiced concern that the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site would stall or be defunded in lieu of Trump’s freeze Monday on EPA grants and contractor work.
The issue was exacerbated by Trump’s subsequent order banning EPA personnel from speaking with reporters on how the freeze might affect projects.
However, Payne wrote that Tipton’s office was “assured that the directive does not have an impact on work/projects/grants that are already finalized and in progress.”
In September, the EPA formalized a hazardous cleanup project known as the Bonita Peak Mining District, composed of 48 mining sites that are thought to adversely impact the headwaters of the Animas River around Silverton.
The decision came just a year after the Gold King Mine spill, in which an EPA contracted crew breached the portal of the mine, sending 3 million gallons of yellow mine wastewater down the Animas and San Juan rivers.
The mine blowout, which thrust to the national spotlight the issue of legacy mines polluting waterways, also effectively reversed Silverton’s more than two-decade-long opposition to a Superfund in just a year’s time.
“I feel so fortunate that we did get the Superfund when we did,” Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie said Tuesday. “If we waited any longer, we’d be caught up in the EPA not being able to fund anything. But we still need to find out how much of the future funding of the Superfund is in jeopardy.”
Trump has repeatedly expressed his disdain of the EPA, suggesting to defund and cripple the agency and to get rid of it.
Recently, Trump picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a fierce EPA critic, to lead the agency. Pruitt is quoted as saying the EPA “was never intended to be our nation’s frontline environmental regulator.”
And while Trump has pledged to cut back, if not eliminate, environmental regulations and turn the narrative of climate change, it’s unclear where the administration stands on legacy sites that are polluters, such as the case in Silverton.
When contacted Wednesday, San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey said local officials in Silverton have not been contacted by the agencies involved in the Superfund process regarding the changing of guards on the federal level.
Tookey summed up similar sentiments expressed by some along the Animas and San Juan watersheds, where communities have shifted from the optimism felt this fall that Superfund would finally address the longstanding issue of toxic waste spilling into the waterways.
“We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”