5th lawsuit filed against EPA over 2015 mine waste spill

FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2015, file photo, heavy machinery works to repair damage at the Gold King Mine outside Silverton, Colo., where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inadvertently triggered a spill of 3 million gallons of wastewater. A fifth lawsuit was filed Aug. 3, 2018, against the EPA by Navajo farmers and ranchers seeking about $75 million in damages. The lawsuit says the farmers and ranchers lost crops and livestock and had to pay to haul clean water because they could not use rivers tainted by the spill. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A fifth lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a mine waste spill the agency inadvertently triggered in 2015, polluting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 3 in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by 295 Navajo farmers and ranchers. Their attorney, Kate Ferlic, said Friday the lawsuit asks for about $75 million.

The lawsuit claims farmers and ranchers lost crops and livestock and had to pay to haul clean water because the spill prevented them from using water from the polluted rivers.

The EPA referred questions to Department of Justice officials, who did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Other defendants include eight companies and subsidiaries that were involved in mining in the area or worked for the EPA.

An EPA-led contractor crew was doing excavation work at the entrance to the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado in August 2015 when it accidentally breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater inside the mine.

An estimated 3 million gallons (11 million liters) of wastewater poured out, carrying nearly 540 tons (490 metric tons) of metals, mostly iron and aluminum.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson consolidated the new lawsuit with four others filed previously by the Navajo Nation, the states of New Mexico and Utah and about a dozen New Mexico residents. Those suits seek a total of $2.3 billion.

The EPA asked the judge last month to dismiss the lawsuits. The agency said the court does not need to intervene because crews are already working on the cleanup.

The judge has not ruled on the request.

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