Udall, Heinrich, Luján Applaud ‘Superfund' Designation for Gold King Mine District

Continue to push EPA to compensate Tribal members, other New Mexicans harmed by Animas River spill, reform outdated mining laws

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján welcomed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to add the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colorado's San Juan County - home to the Gold King Mine - to the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites. The lawmakers have pressed the EPA to support designating the Gold King Mine as a Superfund site since a blowout last August released toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers in New Mexico and Colorado. The three also are backing legislation in the Senate and House to clean up similar abandoned mines across the West.

The listing, effective today, is an important first step that empowers the EPA to request resources to investigate the extent of the pollution and begin cleanup. Under Superfund law, only sites on the NPL are eligible to receive federal funding for long-term, permanent cleanup. The list serves as the basis for prioritizing both enforcement actions against potentially responsible parties and long-term EPA Superfund cleanup funding. The Bonita Peak Mining District site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments, and two study areas from mining that began in the 1860s and continued into the 1990s. 

"It's tragic that it took a massive spill of toxic orange sludge that had a devastating impact on downstream farmers to get to this point. But Superfund designation for the Gold King Mine site is welcome news and a critical step in the effort to finally clean up the toxic pollution still seeping into the Animas and San Juan rivers in New Mexico," Udall said. "Still, there is a lot of work to do to help the farmers, ranchers and families of Northwestern New Mexico recover from the spill, and I'm continuing to push to ensure they receive the compensation they're owed. We also must reform our antiquated mining laws so we can clean up the thousands of abandoned mines just like the Gold King that are scattered across the West. These ticking time bombs are leaking toxins into our water everyday, and I don't believe that corporations should continue to reap millions in royalty-free profits while New Mexicans and other taxpayers suffer the toxic consequences. Hardrock mining companies should pay their fair share for cleanup and to prevent future spills."

"Designating the Gold King Mine as a Superfund site will allow the EPA and the state of Colorado to work on long-term and robust cleanup measures that will directly benefit New Mexico communities downstream," Heinrich said. "But we can’t stop there. The EPA must compensate victims of the spill and we must also overhaul our nation’s hardrock mining policies to clean up the hundreds of thousands of similarly contaminated abandon mines across the West and Indian Country that are leaking toxins into our watersheds. Hardrock mining companies shouldn’t be allowed to mine publicly-owned minerals for free. They should be required to pay reasonable royalties and fees to create a dedicated funding stream for cleaning up toxic mine waste. We can’t wait for more disasters to strike. Our nation owes it to these communities to clean up these sites once and for all to protect our land, water, and livelihoods."

“Adding the Gold King Mine area to the list of Superfund sites is an important and much-needed step forward that will provide funding to clean up the mine. It is a powerful reminder that we cannot wait to tackle the legacy of hard rock mining until more damage is done," Luján said. "With communities in New Mexico still feeling the impacts of this devastating spill, it is painfully clear that it is long past time to address the thousands of abandoned mines that pose similar risks. As concerns continue about the long-term safety of water that is integral to the livelihoods of the many farmers, businesses, and individuals that rely on the Animas and San Juan Rivers, it is critical that EPA also acts to make our people, state, local, and tribal governments whole.”

Udall, Heinrich, and Luján have introduced legislation in the Senate and House in response to the Gold King Mine spill. The lawmakers' legislation requires the EPA to compensate those who were impacted by the spill and continue to monitor water quality from the mine, which had been leaking contamination even before the spill. Udall and Heinrich have also introduced a bill to reform the nation's antiquated mining laws - which date back to 1872 - and ensure mining companies pay royalties for the privilege of extracting mineral resources from public lands. The royalty - similar to that paid by oil and gas and coal companies - would help pay for abandoned mine cleanup. Luján is backing similar legislation that has been introduced in the House.