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New Mexico again criticizes EPA over handling of mine spill

New Mexico again criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday over a massive mine waste spill that tainted rivers in three states, accusing the agency of lying about the seriousness of the blowout.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the EPA misrepresented test samples taken after the spill to make water quality look better than it was.

He also criticized the EPA for saying the water met recreational standards for contamination after the spill instead of using the more stringent residential standard.

In a statement, the EPA defended its testing procedures, saying they were thorough and science-based.

An EPA-led crew inadvertently triggered the release of 3 million gallons of acidic wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while doing preliminary cleanup work last August. Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted with arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc and other metals.

Flynn made his accusations in the New Mexico’s official comment on the EPA’s proposal to designate the Gold King and other nearby mines a Superfund site and in a news release.

Flynn said New Mexico supports the creation of a Superfund site despite the state’s criticisms of the EPA. The comment was submitted Monday and made public Tuesday.

The EPA said it received 44 comments on the Superfund proposal before the Monday deadline, including at least 20 in favor and seven against. Eight comments hadn’t been made public, and others didn’t take a position.

The EPA could formally create the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site as early as this fall, after the agency reviews the comments and makes any changes to the plan.

If the area is designated a Superfund site, the EPA would examine the mountains for pollution sources and compile a list of cleanup alternatives. Long-term cleanup work would begin once the EPA chooses an alternative.

New Mexico has been harshly critical of the EPA in the past, and last month the state filed a lawsuit against the agency in federal court. New Mexico officials say the spill is costing the state $130 million in lost income taxes, fees and revenue.

Utah officials filed a notice in February that they plan to sue the EPA over the spill. Assistant Attorney General Wade Farraway says the state is hiring outside lawyers to handle the case.

Colorado officials haven’t said whether they plan to sue.

Erica Gaddis of the Utah Division of Water Quality praised the proposed Superfund designation Tuesday, saying it would make more money available to clean up abandoned mines.

Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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