The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday that federal law does not require the agency to pay more damages incurred after a massive toxic water spill in Colorado caused by an agency employee.
EPA is not mandated under federal law to repay $1.2 billion to the states affected by the Gold King Mine spill, the Department of Justice (DOJ) supposedly told the agency. The spill caused 3 million gallons of dangerous metals like lead, cadmium and arsenic into the Animas River.
“The circumstances surrounding the Gold King Mine incident unfortunately do not meet the conditions necessary to pay claims,” because the law “does not authorize federal agencies to pay claims resulting from … acts of a governmental nature or function and that involve the exercise of judgment,” EPA said in a statement.
Federal attorneys argued the EPA is protected by a legal principle called sovereign immunity, or “crown immunity,” which argues a sovereign state cannot commit a legal wrong and is therefore immune from prosecution.
The principle must be invoked, the EPA argued, because employees with the agency were conducting an investigation under the Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act when the spill occurred.
EPA has taken responsibility for the spill in other ways, including giving “financial support,” the agency said.
It’s move to invoke the age-old immunity measure for protection comes on the heels of the DOJ’s October decision not to charge the EPA employee involved in causing the spill.
EPA’s Inspector General (IG) launched an investigation into whether the employee violated laws regulating the country’s waterways and made false statements about the spill. The IG did not disclose the employee’s name.
Much of the Gold King Mine disaster is all cleared up, the EPA said Monday, because spring snow-melt pushed 2 million pounds of sludge from the affected rivers to Lake Powell, a vacation area and water source for drinking and agriculture.
EPA’s final report on the spill found evidence showing “the Gold King deposits that remained in the Animas River over the winter period were mobilized early in the spring snow-melt and could be observed through the system, albeit at low concentrations.”