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Sen. Cory Gardner’s bill would force EPA to repay all Gold King spill costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Republican Colorado

The bill, titled the “Gold King Accountability and Compensation for Taxpayers” is co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The legislation comes after the recent announcement that La Plata County should not expect to be fully reimbursed for costs related to the Aug. 5 spill.

“The EPA is wholly accountable and therefore should be held to the same standard as private companies, and the Gold King ACT makes sure of it,” Gardner said in a statement. “I’ll continue to fight to ensure all of those affected by the Animas River spill are made whole, and encourage my colleagues to join Senator Hatch and me in rejecting Washington’s double standard and holding the EPA fully liable.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced a similar bill in September last year. The “Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act” would require the EPA to compensate those affected by the spill, and to work with local communities to fund and implement long-term water-quality monitoring and to assess the state of other abandoned mines.

According to Philip Clelland, a spokesman for Bennet, the senator also spoke with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last week to urge her to fully reimburse Colorado counties, cities and tribes.

Other Colorado lawmakers support holding the EPA accountable, including Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. Josh Green, a spokesman for Tipton, said if this legislation proves effective at helping affected communities, the representative will likely introduce “something substantially similar in the near future.”

So far, the EPA has allocated more than $2 million to support states’ and tribes’ water-quality monitoring programs, including in Colorado. It also has given $270,578 to La Plata County for various expenses related to the spill, including $63,406 announced this week. The agency is reviewing additional expenses incurred by the county, and expects to reimburse additional allowable costs under a cooperative agreement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, according to an agency spokesperson.

Despite this, almost $5 million from more than 60 federal claims related to the spill have gone uncompensated by the EPA, according to a statement from Gardner. The proposed legislation would require the EPA to fully reimburse these claims out of its budget. It also would speed the process for reimbursing all emergency response costs from tribes, counties and local governments.

The bill includes a timeline for repaying claims related to the spill. Previously filed claims would need to be compensated within 60 days, and new claims would need to be filed within 90 days, according to the text of the bill.

Previously, the EPA had announced that it would not repay claims for work done after Oct. 31, however the new legislation would require the agency to reimburse all claims, including those filed after this date.

Finally, the bill includes a provision that the EPA work with local governments and tribes to create a long-term water quality monitoring program for the Animas River.

Kate Magill is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern with The Durango Herald.

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