Pruitt’s EPA announces Gold King Mine reimbursement payments

Author: John Tomasic - March 17, 2017 - Updated: March 17, 2017

On the Animas River after the 2015 Gold King Mine spill (AP)
On the Animas River after the 2015 Gold King Mine spill (AP)

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it will pay out an additional $54,275 to Colorado’s La Plata County, San Juan Basin Health Department, the City of Durango and the Southern Ute Indian tribe as reimbursements tied to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, the agency announced Thursday.

The money pays the entities back for “payroll, fringe, travel and indirect costs.”

Roughly, La Plata will receive nearly $39,000; the San Juan health department $13,600; Durango $1,100; and the Ute tribe $800.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican who has been a high-profile top critic of the agency since the spill occurred, celebrated the news. He also took credit for the payments and shared out credit with new Trump-appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

“Proud to announce CO will receive addt’l funding for costs associated w/ the #GoldKingMine spill,” he tweeted Thursday.

“Within a month of Administrator Pruitt being confirmed to lead the EPA, he is taking the first steps to live up to his commitment to the people of Colorado,” Gardner said in a statement posted at his website Thursday.

The statement noted that Gardner wrote a letter in December to then-EPA head Gina McCarthy demanding the Colorado reimbursement payments. He cited the “newly enacted WIIN Act” as requiring the agency to pay.

The statement also details the fact that Gardner authored a key provision to the WIIN Act — Section 5004 — which requires the EPA to fully reimburse all state, local, and tribal governments for costs tied to the spill.

Pruitt and his EPA have been making headlines since he was appointed and since the slashing cuts planned for the agency budget have come into view. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times seeking to thin regulations on industry. The Gold King Mine reimbursement news will bolster the idea that Pruitt is bringing a new streamlined focus and responsive leadership to the agency.

The Durango Herald noted that Colorado 3rd District Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton also credited Pruitt for the payments.

“Congressman Tipton is glad to see that EPA Secretary Pruitt had made progress toward his pledge to make the communities impacted by the spill whole,” said Tipton spokeswoman Liz Payne.

Politics watchers will note, as did the Herald, that the WIIN Act mandating the reimbursement payments passed through Congress in December and was signed six days later by President Obama on December 16.

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.

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