WASHINGTON, D.C. – Before the Senate’s vote on Scott Pruitt’s nomination for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) spoke on the Senate floor in opposition of his confirmation.
Heinrich called on Pruitt to review the EPA’s decision to not pay for damages to water users caused by the Gold King Mine as soon as possible.
“This decision represented a broken promise from EPA that it would fully address this environmental disaster,” Heinrich said. “If he is confirmed as EPA Administrator, Mr. Pruitt must take up this review as soon as possible to restore trust among the people of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the Southern Ute tribe, and the Navajo Nation who have already waited too long for the EPA to keep its promise and compensate them for the harm caused.”
Last year, Heinrich secured the passage of a bipartisan measure to expedite reimbursements to tribal, local and state governments for costs incurred in responding to the Gold King Mine spill. Heinrich also welcomed the EPA’s 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. However, the EPA’s recent announcement that the agency is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act has left farmers and other impacted water users without compensation for damages caused by the spill.
In his remarks, Heinrich also expressed his concerns about Pruitt’s record of climate denial and lawsuits against EPA rules that protect clean air and water as the Attorney General of Oklahoma.
“Americans need a leader at the EPA who will take action on climate change, which has contributed to a third straight year of record global temperatures and increasingly extreme weather patterns that threaten life and property across the country,” Heinrich said. “We also need someone who is guided in their decisions by the best available science, who will use the EPA to protect our health and well-being, and who will help move New Mexico, and our nation, toward a clean energy economy. I've heard from thousands of New Mexicans who have made a strong case that Mr. Pruitt is not the right person for the job, and I agree.”
Heinrich's full remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
On August 5, 2015, three million gallons of acid mine drainage laden with heavy metals and other contaminants were released into Cement Creek by an Environmental Protection Agency contractor investigating contamination at the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colorado.
Contaminated water flowed down the Animas River and into the San Juan River, resulting in water use restrictions and emergency responses in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the Southern Ute reservation, and the Navajo Nation.
You need only look at the photos of the bright orange water streaming through the Animas and San Juan to see how terrible this spill was for affected communities and water users.
The Gold King Mine spill placed a heavy burden on states, tribes, local governments, and communities.
And the spill hurt businesses, farmers, and ranchers throughout the region.
Since the spill, I have visited impacted residents and communities and worked closely with local, state, and tribal leaders to make sure water is monitored for contaminants and costs from the spill are repaid.
Last year, I was proud to help pass a measure in Congress that will ensure that state, local, and Tribal governments will be fully reimbursed for their emergency response costs, and which establishes a long-term water quality monitoring program in cooperation with local stakeholders.
However, on January 13 of this year, the EPA and Department of Justice issued an outrageous decision that the EPA is not liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages to water users caused by the Gold King Mine spill.
This decision represented a broken promise from EPA that it would fully address this environmental disaster.
While the agency has taken steps to clean up the mine, no farmer in New Mexico or on the Navajo Nation has received a dime of compensation, and distrust of the government has understandably deepened in the Four Corners region.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works last month, President Trump’s nominee to run the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said that he would review the agency’s decision not to make payments to claimants affected by the Gold King Mine spill.
If he is confirmed as EPA Administrator, Mr. Pruitt must take up this review as soon as possible to restore trust among the people of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the Southern Ute tribe, and the Navajo Nation who have already waited too long for the EPA to keep its promise and compensate them for the harm caused.
I will hold Mr. Pruitt accountable for cleaning up toxic abandoned hardrock mines in the West like the Gold King.
And I will hold him accountable for making sure the water that New Mexico communities and farmers rely upon is safe.
We shouldn’t wait for more disasters to strike.
New Mexico communities deserve full and complete protection of their water, land, and livelihoods.
Unfortunately, I have great reason to doubt Mr. Pruitt will take this responsibility and core mission of the Environmental Protection Agency seriously in his new role.
As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has built a long track record that is antithetical to the EPA’s core mission to keep our nation’s land, air, and water clean.
Mr. Pruitt repeatedly fought against the EPA as it implemented measures to safeguard our clean air and clean water.
Rather than protecting the health of Oklahoma families, he has filed lawsuits against the EPA to stop rules that would reduce soot and smog pollution crossing state lines, protect against emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases, and other toxic pollutants from power plants, and improve air quality in national parks and wilderness areas.
Mr. Pruitt has shown little regard for the safety of our drinking water, filing a lawsuit to stop the EPA’s Clean Water Rule, which would protect the natural filtering system that supplies drinking water to one in three Americans.
And Mr. Pruitt sent a letter to the EPA opposing even preliminary research into the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on our water resources.
Mr. Pruitt has been a friend to polluters, helping them to use his office as a conduit for their own interests.
He has sent letters on official letterhead to the EPA, the Department of the Interior, the Office of Management and Budget, and even to the President of the United States copied and pasted nearly verbatim from language written by industry lobbyists.
And perhaps most damning of all, Mr. Pruitt has repeatedly denied the scientific consensus on the human influence on climate change, including as recently as an op-ed published in May 2016.
It takes a willful disregard for data-driven science to ignore the increase in extreme weather events we are now seeing on a regular basis thanks to climate change.
Just last Saturday, Magnum, Oklahoma set an all-time record of 99 degrees Fahrenheit on February 11.
Imagine that. 99 degrees in the heart of winter.
Folks, I wish I were making this up.
No snowball on the floor of the Senate can eliminate these facts.
And it was Mr. Pruitt, the Attorney General of Oklahoma, who sued the EPA to prevent measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the very cause of climate change.
Americans need a leader at the EPA who will take action on climate change, which has contributed to a third straight year of record global temperatures and increasingly extreme weather patterns that threaten life and property across the country.
We also need someone who is guided in their decisions by the best available science, who will use the EPA to protect our health and well-being, and who will help move New Mexico, and our nation, toward a clean energy economy.
I've heard from thousands of New Mexicans who have made a strong case that Mr. Pruitt is not the right person for the job, and I agree.
I will NOT vote to confirm Scott Pruitt.
But if my colleagues move forward to confirm Mr. Pruitt to serve as EPA Administrator, New Mexicans can be certain that I will hold him accountable for any decisions that will hurt the health of New Mexico families.
That includes making sure Mr. Pruitt rights the wrongs inflicted on communities in the Four Corners region by the Gold King Mine spill.
It is going to take many years to clean up the legacy of over 100 years of mining and its effect on the watershed running through northwestern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.
In New Mexico, we know that water is life.
The water we drink and the air we breathe are absolutely essential to our daily lives.
My constituents in New Mexico cannot afford to see the EPA stop working to protect our air from pollution, to conserve our precious water resources, and to work to reverse the devastating effects of climate change.