New Mexico’s bid to recover damages from Colorado over the Gold King Mine spill was thwarted Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court denied a motion filed by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to sue the neighboring state over the August 2015 blowout, which saw more than 3 million gallons of toxic contamination flood from the Animas River in Colorado to the San Juan River in New Mexico.
The spill was caused by a crew led by the Environmental Protection Agency working on a clean-up project. An Interior Department review later found that the agency failed to check the water level behind the debris before clearing it.
Balderas spokesman James Hallinan said the legal battle over the Gold King Mine spill wasn’t over.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the State of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses,” Mr. Hallinan said in a statement.
“Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill,” he said.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from the motion for leave to file a bill of complaint, according to the court summary.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman praised the court’s decision.
“Because it was the EPA and not Colorado that caused the Gold King Mine disaster, I have said from the beginning that New Mexico should not have sued Colorado in the Supreme Court,” she said. “Now that my office has won the Supreme Court case, I hope the conversation can focus on the EPA and its promise to take full responsibility for its actions.”
New Mexico had argued that Colorado was aware of the risk of a spill and that its “disastrous environmental decision-making” set the stage for the “catastrophic blowout,” thus polluting an interstate river that provided water for tens of thousands.
“The Gold King Mine release is the result of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price,” Mr. Balderas in a statement issued in June 2016.
He said negotiations between the states had failed. Colorado is home to hundreds of abandoned mines, some of which date back to the Gold Rush days.
The EPA provided emergency aid and water monitoring after the spill but refused in January to pay 73 claims totaling $1.2 billion filed by tribes, river-raft companies, farmers and local governments for damages, citing sovereign immunity.
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