US Supreme Court rejects New Mexico’s suit against Colorado over mine spill

The US Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit by New Mexico’s government claiming that Colorado environmental regulators played a direct role in the 2015 mine waste spill, which polluted nearby rivers.

The leak, containing high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead, was accidentally triggered by a US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) clean-up team working at an old Colorado gold mine.

The court did not provide details about its decision to dismiss the case; it just said most magistrates opposed hearing the lawsuit.

Court did not provide details about its decision to dismiss the case; it just said most magistrates opposed hearing the lawsuit.

New Mexico had argued that Colorado authorities were aware of the risk of a spill and that their “disastrous environmental decision-making” set the stage for the “catastrophic blowout” that polluted a river known for being a source of water for tens of thousands.

According to an EPA report published in January, the total amount of metals dumped into the Animas River following the spill was comparable to four to seven days of ongoing acid drainage from the inactive Gold King mine (GKM).

The agency noted said the spill of 3 million gallons of toxic waste water (more than 11 million litres) that flood from the Animas River in Colorado to the San Juan River in New Mexico, lasted about nine hours, setting a record for mine leaks in the region.

It also found the total amount of metals released into the streams, dominated by iron and aluminum, was comparable to four to seven days of ongoing acid drainage from the dormant mine, or the average amount of metals carried by the river in one to two days of high spring runoff.

It further acknowledged that the concentrations of some metals in the Gold King mine plume were higher than historical mine drainage in the area.

Despite the report, EPA refused later to pay 73 claims totalling $1.2 billion filed by tribes, river-raft companies, farmers and local governments for damages, citing sovereign immunity.

US Supreme Court rejects New Mexico’s suit against Colorado over mine spill

Gold King Mine spill emergency retaining ponds built in 2015. (Image by EPA)