EPA Agrees to pay $3m in Clean Water Act Funds to Utah in Gold King Mine Agreement

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Utah announced an agreement on Wednesday to resolve Utah’s legal claims regarding the Gold King Mine release. Utah will dismiss its claims against the USA, the EPA, and its contractors and the EPA will provide $3 million to help with clean water projects in Utah.

This announcement comes exactly five years after the release of toxic chemicals at the southwestern Colorado Gold King Mine on August 5, 2015, according to an EPA press release. The event happened after EPA contractors breached the mine and 3 million gallons of wastewater were released, along with pollutants and heavy metals. The breach impacted Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation.

“Today, we settled a case with Utah stemming from the Gold King Mine incident during the Obama administration. This agreement is a win-win for EPA and Utah. It will bring environmental benefits to Utah, avoid protracted litigation, and hopefully serve as a lesson for the future to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

According to a report by the Deseret News, the administrator said Utah’s claims were the most significant and are the first claims settled regarding the Gold King Mine. “We are hopeful with the progress we have made here it will show the other litigants that we are serious about settling,” Wheeler said.

The funds from the EPA will be used for Clean Water Act projects in Utah including improving Utah Lake’s water quality, addressing environmental issues in old mining sites in Cottonwood Canyons, pollution reduction products, agricultural nutrient management plans.

“Our two goals were simple.  First, get the federal government to clean-up massive amounts of waste still lurking in many historic mining districts including the one that caused the Gold King Mine blowout. We have achieved that goal through litigation and now settlement. We are highly encouraged the EPA has stepped up and committed hundreds of millions of dollars toward cleaning-up several dangerous mining districts containing billions of gallons of potentially harmful substances that threaten Utah if they are released,” said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.

As part of the settlement, the EPA will partner with Utah on some of its environmental priorities, including mine sites and other water quality issues. The EPA also agreed to “strengthen Utah’s involvement in the Agency’s work to address contamination at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site,” the site that encompasses abandoned mines including the Gold King Mine.

The lawsuit regarding the Gold King Mine in the New Mexico District Court will still continue to address the concerns of hundreds of other plaintiffs. An Order filed on Thursday asks for federal parties and mining defendants to provide information to help prepare for a deposition in the case. According to the press release, the EPA has spent $75 million to clean up the site, and expects to spend at least another $65 million.