August 25 2016
Jillian Kay Melchior
It’s been a year since the Environmental Protection Agency’s crew botched an August 2015 cleanup at a Colorado mine site, spilling 3 million gallons of metal-tainted water into the Animas River.
But while the agency comes down like a hammer on corporate environmental offenders, it’s been slow in righting its own wrongs, Marketplace reports:
Matt Wilson, owner and operator of 4 Corners Whitewater, estimates he lost about $30,000 in revenue last year because of the spill. His was one of about six Colorado rafting companies affected. He says canceled trips and no customers for over a week caused a big disruption. “So after that it was hard to kind of reboot and get people back on the water after all that publicity,” he said.
Wilson's company is one of 68 businesses across Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation that filled out financial claims with the EPA. Water quality on the Animas River has returned to pre-spill conditions. And the 2016 summer rafting season has been strong.
But one year later, Wilson and others are still waiting to hear back on their claims.
A few miles away at Durango city hall, counselor Dean Brookie said his government is in another type of holding pattern. It spent $445,000 responding to the spill. The tab includes everything from water-quality monitoring to “personnel that we assigned to the clean-up effort.”
Brookie said the EPA has paid about $45,000 so far. Durango’s budget is holding strong without those remaining funds. But other smaller communities may not have as much in reserves.
… In some places like New Mexico, talks have broken down.
“It was just continual failed efforts,” Tania Maestas said, Deputy Attorney General for Civil Affairs in the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.
New Mexico sued the EPA this spring. She said the state received more than $1 million. But it only covers a fraction of $130 million in estimated damages. The lawsuit covers everything from water quality monitoring to payment to local businesses for their losses.
Last week, the Navajo Nation filed suit against the agency, claiming its post-spill cleanup efforts were negligent.
And earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the EPA’s inspector general opened a criminal investigation into the spill.
At minimum, the EPA should be held to the same standards as the private sector