EPA officials answering questions from the community on the Gold King mine spill
EPA officials answering questions from the community on the Gold King mine spill
What are the plans during the state of Emergency? What are the future plans? Why are we waiting for the US EPA?
‘Ghostbusters” has been playing again on cable, so we are reminded that the villain of that movie classic was a bully from the Environmental Protection Agency. He broke the ghost-containment grid and all hell broke loose. So who you gonna call today when the E-men dump three million gallons of toxic slurry down the rivers of the West?
Last week an EPA hazmat team hoped to inspect an abandoned Gold Rush-era mine near Durango, Colorado, and the backhoe digging out the collapsed cave entrance breached a retaining wall. The blowout spilled the contaminated sludge that had accumulated for nearly a century in the mine’s tunnels into a creek that is a tributary of the Animas River, flowing at a rate of 740 gallons a minute.
The plume of lead, arsenic, mercury, copper, cadmium and other heavy metals turned the water a memorable shade of yellow-orange chrome. The sludge is so acidic that it stings upon touch. Colorado, New Mexico and the Navajo Indian reservation have declared states of emergency as the contamination empties into Lake Powell in Utah and the San Juan River in New Mexico.
The ecological ramifications are uncertain, though the San Juan is designated as “critical habitat” for the Colorado Pike Minnow and Razorback Sucker fish. The regional economy that depends on recreational tourism like rafting, kayaking and fly fishing has been damaged. Drinking water is potable only because utilities closed their intake gates, but pollution in the water table has deprived farmers and rural residents of a source for wells, livestock and crop irrigation.
For 24 hours the EPA failed to warn state and local officials, who learned about the fiasco when they saw their river become yellow curry. The EPA’s initial estimate of the leakage was exposed by the U.S. Geologic Service as three times below the real rate. The agency hasn’t explained the cause of the accident.
Yet the demands for reparations and the media outrage are notably muted. PresidentObama hasn’t budged from his vacation golf rounds. Imagine how the EPA and the green lobby would be reacting if this spill had been committed by a private company. BP could have used this political forbearance after it failed to cork a busted oil well a mile below the sea after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Naturally, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, known as the Superfund law, gives EPA clean-up crews immunity from the trial bar when they are negligent. Yet the Durango blowout was entirely avoidable.
In an Aug. 8 “incident report,” the EPA notes that “the intent of the investigation was to create access to the mine, assess on-going water releases from the mine to treat mine water, and assess the feasibility of further mine remediation.” In other words, the mine was plugged, and the EPA was excavating in search of some notional make-work problem to solve. Where were Bill Murray and Harold Ramis when we needed them?
Low levels of mining waste seep from thousands of used-up 19th-century projects beneath the Western states, but the counties around Durango have resisted declaration as Superfund sites. Perhaps they recall the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) saga in New York, where the EPA forced General Electric to dredge the Hudson River. The operation increased PCB pollution that was long deposited in sediment and had been harmless.
The world is a resilient place—the Gulf Coast has rebounded well—and Colorado will recover from the EPA’s blunders. The lesson is to leave well enough alone, and that government lives by a double standard.
SHIPROCK — With the Animas and San Juan rivers still off limits, local ranchers and farmers are looking for alternative ways to get water for their livestock and crops.
Restrictions on the rivers were put into effect after toxic metals flowed from a mine north of Silverton, Colo., into the Animas River and then into the San Juan River.
In response to the situation, officials with the Shiprock Chapter started hauling water to residents who need it for their livestock.
Melvin Jones, an equipment operator at the chapter house, delivered water Monday and Tuesday to residents in Shiprock.
“There are quite a few people on the list right now, so we’ll probably be hauling water all week and into next week,” he said.
On Tuesday, he delivered water in a 1,000-gallon tank to Sarah Frank’s residence in southeast Shiprock. As Jones filled her large storage tank with water, Frank removed lids from three steel drums and an assortment of plastic containers to hold the remainder of the water. Frank’s residence is less than 10 miles south of the river, which was the main source of water for her 30 sheep and 13 lambs.
“They really drink water when the grass is dry,” she said.
Frank said she asked chapter house officials for help because she was worried about her sheep.
“They said they would help to haul water. I was so glad to hear that,” Frank said, adding that the delivered water could last up to four weeks.
Meanwhile, in Upper Fruitland, the corn at Jimmy and Lucy Lujan’s 24-acre farm had already started to wither on Tuesday from lack of water, and the couple fears they have lost a crop of newly planted alfalfa. Lucy Lujan said she had hoped to sell the corn to pay for her grandson’s tuition at San Juan College.
“You don’t realize how much you rely on irrigation water,” she said.
Since the plume of contaminated water flooded the San Juan River, the Lujans have been using tap water for their small herd of sheep and to irrigate their crops. The couple said they have always had plenty of water, but now they are afraid they will lose all of their crops this season.
Tommy Bolack relies on both the Animas and San Juan rivers to irrigate his 12,000-acre B-Square Ranch in Farmington. He learned about the Gold King Mine spill a day and a half before the plume reached Farmington and turned off the ditches on the southern portion of his property, which is irrigated by the Animas River.
“It’s best to let that water go by,” he said.
Early warnings helped farmers prevent crop contamination, said D’rese Sutherland, one of the owners of Sutherland Farms.
“We’ll be fine for a few days,” she said, adding that rains and cloud cover have helped the crops on the 80-acre farm north of Aztec.
But, she added, “If we don’t get water on some crops within the next week, we will start losing some.”
Sutherland said she has been in contact with the New Mexico State University San Juan County Extension Office to secure emergency water supplies.
The extension office started delivering irrigation water Tuesday afternoon, said agriculture agent Bonnie Hopkins. On Tuesday, about 20,000 gallons of water were delivered to farmers and about 10,000 gallons were delivered to livestock owners, she said.
The office can deliver water to farmers and ranchers who are not on the Navajo Nation. Residents can call 505-334-9496 to get on the water delivery list. Farmers with market vegetables and fruits will be prioritized because their livelihoods depend on the produce.
Four Corners Economic Development will also host a public meeting at 2 p.m. today at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St., to discuss the county’s irrigation options with officials from the extension office, the state Office of the State Engineer and the Environmental Protection Agency.
By Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent
Updated 12:24 PM ET, Tue August 11, 2015
(CNN)While the mustard-yellow hue of the Animas River is fading, leading toxicologists say there could be health effects for many years to come from heavy metals such as lead and mercury that spilled into the water.
“This is a real mess,” said Max Costa, chair of the department of environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine. “These levels are shocking.”
Exposure to high levels of these metals can cause an array of health problems from cancer to kidney disease to developmental problems in children.
“Oh my God! Look at the lead!” said Joseph Landolph, a toxicologist at the University of Southern California, pointing to a lead level in the Animas River nearly 12,000 times higher than the acceptable level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the samples of mercury was nearly 10 times higher than the EPA acceptable levels. Samples of beryllium and cadmium were 33 times higher, and one of the arsenic levels was more than 800 times higher.
‘A major, major problem’
“This is a major, major problem,” said Jonathan Freedman, a toxicologist at the University of Louisville, who until recently worked as an investigator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
Typically it takes years or even decades for health problems from metals to develop.
Spokespersons for the EPA did not respond to emails Monday regarding the levels.
The mayor of Durango, Colorado, said experts from the agency were “noncommittal” about the health effects of the contamination during a community meeting Sunday night.
“There was no good discussion of what these levels mean, and that’s what’s frustrating. I’m a fairly smart guy, and I walked away without having answers,” said Dean Brookie. “It wasn’t a great confidence builder.”
According to the EPA, Wednesday’s spill caused a spike in these metal concentrations, but levels “began to return to pre-event conditions” by Thursday.
However, according to the EPA’s own data, there were still very high levels of metals on Thursday. A lead sample was more than 300 times higher than the EPA acceptable level, for example, and an arsenic sample tested 26 times the acceptable level.
EPA spokespersons did not respond to emails Monday asking how many residents rely on the Animas River for their drinking water and how many farms use the water for irrigation.
Cadmium is a particular concern for crops, Costa said, as it’s readily absorbed.
“Of all the toxic metals, it goes into plants like crazy,” he said.
It’s also not clear what the levels of these metals would have been once they reached the input point for drinking water systems and whether the systems cut off their connection to the river water in time to avoid the contaminants.
One thing, however, is for sure: these metals don’t disappear. Even if they go down to low levels in the water, they could likely be in the sediment and could be kicked up into the water at any time.
“This was such a horrible accident,” Landolph said. “I served on the EPA scientific advisory board, and I have the utmost respect for the agency. I wish them godspeed in cleaning it up and containing it.”
This is an international declaration, and law in the making, that is very much relevant to the EPA disaster. One of the approaches to identifying claims is standards. This is one. It is also Navajo fundamental law.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop handing out forms to Navajo citizens impacted by the Animas River spill that would effectively waive an individual’s rights to sue the agency for any future damages caused by contaminated water released from an abandoned mine upstream in Colorado last week.
“The people that live up and down the river, the Navajo people, many do not speak English, and those that do may not comprehend legal language,” Begaye said.
Around 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater spilled into the Animas River from an abandoned gold mine in southern Colorado last week after an accident caused by the EPA. The agency says the water contains lead, arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals, but has still not disclosed what impact the spill will have on river users downstream, like those in the Navajo Nation. However, Begaye says officials are already trying to preempt future lawsuits by taking advantage of Navajo citizens.
“My interpretation as president of the Navajo Nation is the EPA is trying to minimize the amount of compensation that the people deserve,” said Begaye. “They want to close these cases and they don’t want more compensation to come later.”
The EPA did not return requests for comment.
Claims for damage, death or injury caused by a federal employee’s negligence are covered under Standard Form 95, but the form also states that any payments made are final.
“They’re saying if we pay you $500 for buying hay for your cattle, and you sign your name here, that’s all you’re going to get,” said Begaye. “Next week if you find something else that comes up because of the contamination and maybe your livestock may be injured, then we can’t pay you because you waived your right.”
The Navajo Nation has declared a state of emergency and is planning lawsuits against the owner of the Gold King Mine, where the sludge originated, and the EPA for causing the spill. Navajo Nation officials are working around the clock on contingency plans, including drastic measures to protect farm and ranch livelihoods.
“We could ask all the owners if they could get their animals and bring them to the rodeo grounds and we could put them in pens,” said Alvis Kee, manager of the Upper Fruitland Chapter House. “We could get stock tanks with water, we could get the hay or whatever feed they need and to bring that over and provide it so they can insure that their livestock do not go to the river.”
Other communities along the Animas are making their own plans. In Aztec, City Manager Josh Rays says authorities are primarily concerned with getting drinking water to residents who use wells instead of the municipal system.
“We have roughly 73 million gallons of untreated water in reserve,” Rays said. “We have another three or four million gallons in treated water in reserve, so we have sufficient water supply for 30 to 45 days without having to access new water sources.”
For the moment, Aztec is preparing for up to six months without access to the Animas. After that, Rays says that water will have to be trucked in.
“We just don’t know how long this is going to last,” Kee said. “We’re hoping for the best, but we’re starting to plan for the worst, and that’s all we can do at this stage.”
For Immediate Release: August 12, 2015 For inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Julia Olson, 415-786-4825, firstname.lastname@example.org Philip Gregory, 650-697-6000, email@example.com
America’s Youth File Landmark Climate Lawsuit Against U.S. Government and President
Eugene, OR – Today, on International Youth Day, 21 young people from across the United States filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Also acting as a Plaintiff is world-renown climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, serving as guardian for future generations and for his granddaughter, and Earth Guardians, representing young citizen beneficiaries of the public trust. The Complaint asserts that, in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources.
The Complaint alleges the Federal Government is violating the youth’s constitutional rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels. These young Plaintiffs are challenging the federal government’s national fossil fuel programs, as well as the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal in Coos Bay, OR. Plaintiffs seek to hold President Obama and various federal agencies responsible for continued fossil fuel exploitation. The Federal Government has known for decades that fossil fuels are destroying the climate system. No less important than in the Civil Rights cases, Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100.
In describing the case, one of the teenage Plaintiffs and Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, stated: “The Federal Government has known for decades that CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change. It also knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize our climate system, significantly harming my generation and generations to come. Despite knowing these dangers, Defendants did nothing to prevent this harm. In fact, my Government increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to levels it knew were unsafe.”
Another Plaintiff, 18-year-old Kelsey Juliana, said: “Our nation’s top climate scientists, including Dr. Hansen, have found that the present CO2 level is already in the danger zone and leading to devastating disruptions of planetary systems. The current practices and policies of our Federal Government include sustained exploitation and consumption of fossil fuels. We brought this case because the Government needs to immediately and aggressively reduce carbon emissions, and stop promoting fossil fuels, which force our nation’s climate system toward irreversible impacts. A key example is approval of LNG pipelines and export terminals in Oregon. If the Government continues to delay urgent annual emissions reductions, my generation’s wellbeing will be inexcusably put at risk.” Based on the Fifth Amendment to the U.S.
Based on the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Complaint argues that, despite knowing CO2 emissions cause dangerous climate change and ocean acidification, the Federal Government failed to restrict those emissions and continues to authorize fossil fuel projects that amplify the danger and foreclose the opportunity to stabilize the climate system. The lawsuit specifies the Jordan Cove Energy Project as one egregious instance in which the Federal Government intensified that danger to Plaintiffs’ life, liberty and property. Plaintiffs seek judicial action no less important, from a strictly legal basis, than Brown v. Board of Education (right to equal educational opportunity) and Obergefell v. Hodges (right to marry). This case places indisputable climate science squarely in front of the federal judiciary, requesting an order forcing our government to cease jeopardizing the climate system for present and future generations.
“We uncovered shocking admissions by the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency: they have known for decades of the extreme dangers of fossil fuels,” noted Philip Gregory of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, of Burlingame, CA, counsel to the Plaintiffs. “The Complaint explains how Defendants have known since at least 1965 that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels would create perilous climate change, with enormous and harmful impacts for future generations – including our children. These disclosures also arose in the 1980’s when Congress worked with the EPA to develop a national plan to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 350 ppm. Despite the government’s extensive knowledge of the dangers of CO2 emissions, and draft plans to reduce these emissions, Defendants continued to authorize and promote fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, and all their associated emissions – to the grave detriment of future generations.”
“By 2020, the Jordan Cove Energy Project will be the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the whole state of Oregon,” stated 18-year-old Alex Loznak, one of the eleven Oregon youth plaintiffs. “Science tells us we must sharply cut back on CO2 emissions, but my Federal Government has given the green light to massive LNG exports from this terminal. If constructed, the terminal would process one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, locking us into dependence on fossil fuels at a time when we should be transitioning toward a renewable energy economy. My family has owned a farm near the proposed pipeline route for almost 150 years, and I’m worried about the impacts that increased drought and wildfire will have on the farm unless we act now on climate change.”
The Complaint includes each Plaintiff’s individual story and the ways in which they are harmed by climate change now and will be in the future if the Court does not order the Federal Government to decrease atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to a safe level. For example, Youth Plaintiff Tia Hatton, from Bend, OR, has experienced record low snowfall for the past three years, threatening her water supplies and winter sports. She knows carbon pollution confronts her and her generation with the specter of severe water shortages, and is concerned she will be forced to stop skiing competitively. Levi Draheim, an 8-year-old Plaintiff from Indialantic, FL lives with his family on a small barrier island between the Atlantic ocean and a lagoon. Sea level rise is already seriously impacting their island, and Levi is worried he will have to move if it becomes worse. Plaintiff Journey Zephier, a 15-year-old who lives in Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, is watching the island’s beaches erode away. The island’s decreased rainfall is resulting in lower river water levels, and his community is faced with serious water quality problems because saltwater is intruding upriver from sea level rise.
“This bold action by youth in the United States challenges federal government actions that are causing and exacerbating, rather than abating, the climate crisis,” said Roger Cox, attorney for URGENDA who recently secured a court order in the Netherlands ordering the Dutch government to decrease emissions. “Like the court found in our Dutch case, the U.S. government also has a duty to safeguard the climate for present and future generations, but when the government fails to do so, plaintiffs must be able to rely on the judicial branch to remedy the grave injustice being perpetrated by their own government.” Cox added that “What the U.S. courts do in this case will have implications for the rest of the world, and for the degree of climate change we will all face in the years to come.”
Dr. James Hansen, director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at Columbia University, stated: “We have a global climate emergency. Earth is out of energy balance, there is more energy coming in than going out. That energy drives warming of the ocean, ice sheet disintegration and sea level rise, stronger storms, more intense heat waves, droughts, fires and floods. Our Constitution guarantees young people equal protection of the law and the rights to life, liberty – including the pursuit of happiness – and property. These rights may not be denied by government action without due process of law.”
According to Dr. Hansen, “Sensible means exist to rapidly phase down CO2 emissions, to wit, a rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies with funds distributed to the public. Instead, our President proposes ineffectual actions, demonstrably short of what is needed, and persists in approving fossil fuel projects that will slam shut the narrowing window of opportunity to ensure a hospitable climate system. I aim to testify on behalf of young people. Their future hangs in the balance.” “
The purpose of this case is to obtain an order from a federal court requiring the United States government, including the President and specific federal agencies, to develop a national plan to protect our atmosphere and stable climate system. These youth, as well as future generations, have constitutional due process and equal protection rights to be free from governmental harm to those resources,” said Julia Olson, Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel for Our Children’s Trust, and lead counsel on the litigation. “This lawsuit asks whether our government has a constitutional responsibility to leave a viable climate system for future generations. The Federal Government has consciously chosen to endanger young people’s right to a stable climate system for the short-term economic interests of a few. In light of the established science, federal approval of the Jordan Cove LNG Project cannot stand. This administration must no longer consign future generations to an uninhabitable planet.”
The case is part of a global legal campaign led by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization that is coordinating a federal, state, local and global human rights and environmental justice campaign to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate. As a result of OCT’s work, courts around the U.S. and in other countries are beginning to accept arguments to secure that right, in accordance with science and on the behalf of present and future generations. Top legal scholars, international scientists, national security experts, faith leaders, cities, NGOs and others support this effort, including, most recently, a Seattle court that ordered the Washington State to consider the science in establishing emissions standards. Similarly, in March, the N.M. Court of Appeals that the atmosphere is entitled to constitutional protection as a public trust resource. The case filed today builds on these cases and others. Our Children’s Trust and its team of lawyers from around the country is also advancing cases in Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and North Carolina, and will soon file actions in Florida, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Montana, Alaska and Maine, and in several other countries. To learn more, go to www.ourchildrenstrust.org and to view the Complaint, go to www.ourchildrenstrust.org/US/Federal-Lawsuit.
Earth Guardians is a Colorado-based nonprofit organization with youth chapters on five continents, and multiple groups in the United States with thousands of members working together to protect the Earth, the water, the air, and the atmosphere, creating healthy sustainable communities globally. We inspire and empower young leaders, families, schools, organizations, cities, and government officials to make positive change locally, nationally, and globally to address the critical state of the Earth. www.earthguardians.org
The spill happened Friday when a team of Environmental Protection Agency workers accidentally released 3 million gallons of wastewater containing heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, from the Gold King Mine in Silverton, Colorado, the agency said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health said Tuesday evening that the concentration of contaminants “continues to decrease” and the “department does not anticipate adverse health effects from incidental or limited exposure to metals detected in the water.
Though EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said at a news conference today that the agency’s slow response was out of caution, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the slow response is frustrating the Navajo people, who are “weeping every day” and in “dire need of clean water,” not only for drinking, but also to sustain their organic farms and ranches.
“Our soul is hurting,” Begaye told ABC News today. “I meet people daily that weep when they see me, asking me, ‘How do I know the water will be safe?’ The Animas River and the San Juan rivers are our lifelines. Water is sacred to us. The spirit of our people is being impacted.”
He explained that “basic drinking water” is becoming scarce as clean storage water is depleting more rapidly than expected.
“Bottled water is becoming scarce, and my people want to know what we can drink after the clean supply runs out,” Begaye said. “We’re hauling water from wells outside the disaster area and using our own Navajo Nation funds to run these trunks back and forth. We desperately need help from outside to get good quality, safe drinking water.”
Additionally, farmers and ranchers will be losing thousands of dollars in revenue if they can’t find a way to irrigate their crops and provide drinking water to their cattle and livestock, Begaye said.
“We are in the middle of farming season, which is only four to five months of the whole year, and farmers are baking me to help them save their crops, many of which are not fully ripe yet,” he said. “The revenue from these crops is what our farmers need to live off for the rest of the year, so without irrigation water, they are doomed.
“Our ranchers, which have cattle, sheep, horses, goats and different livestock also graze and drink along the river,” Begaye added. “But right now, all the cattle are penned up, and these ranchers have to haul their water in, which they’re not prepared to do.”
Begaye explained that the Navajo are well known for their organic crops and meat, but now with the river contamination, farmers and ranchers are scared they can’t guarantee their consumers that their produce and products are going to be 100 percent organic.
Navajo tourism is also being affected because business owners of resorts and boating companies by the rivers now cannot fully operate until the water is cleared, the Navajo president added.
Begaye said the EPA sent two personnel — one who could help with any health issues and another who could help with water testing — but he said the Navajo Nation has yet to receive help from the EPA to get drinking water and more specific answers about what’s exactly in the orange-yellow waters now flowing in their sacred rivers.
Administrator McCarthy said today she understands the “frustration” but that the EPA has “researchers and scientists working around the clock” and is hustling to provide “alternative water supplies.”
She added there have not been any reported cases of “anyone’s health being compromised” and that the “EPA is taking full responsibility to ensure that the spill is cleaned up.”
McCarthy also mentioned that she expected there to be lawsuits against the EPA, and Begaye said in a news release Sunday that he planned to take legal action against the agency.
“To recover from this from this will take a while,” Begaye told ABC News. “For our river to recover, it may take decades. But our people have faced disaster before, and as a nation, we’ll work together and do the best we can. As a nation of prayer, we are asking for prayers for our people right now, and I’d also just like to thank anyone who has reached out to us to volunteer help.”