NM Gov. Martinez: 'We Have People Preparing a Lawsuit' Against EPA

By Susan Jones | August 11, 2015 | 11:06am EDT
The Animas River near Durango, Colo., turned bright yellow after the EPA accidentally released toxic mine waste into a creek while trying to clean up the mine on Aug. 5, 2015. (Jerry McBride/The Durango Herald via AP, File)

(CNSNews.com) - New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) says her state may sue the Environmental Protection Agency for causing an environmental disaster that will have repercussions for years to come.

"I'm not taking anything off of the table. Right now, we have people preparing for a lawsuit if that is what we need to do, but nothing is off the table right now," Martinez told Fox News Tuesday morning.

"We cannot have different standards for private industry and for the federal government, and we are going to hold them accountable. The long term damage and the short-term damage is unpredictable, but we know that it's devastating."

Both New Mexico and the Navajo Nation declared a state of emergency, after toxic waste from an abandoned gold mine in Colorado flooded into the Animas and San Juan River valleys, heading toward Lake Powell in Utah, which supplies much of the water for the Southwest.

Television footage showed miles and miles of river water turned yellow from the contamination.

"We are not aware of all of the toxins that in the river," Martinez said on Tuesday. "The EPA has not been commuicating and has not been forthcoming with the State of New Mexico as to the different types of toxins."

According to press reports, the water is full of heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, and cadmium.

In a brief statement on its website, the EPA noted that on August 5, while investigating the Gold King Mine in Colorado, an EPA cleanup team triggered a large release of mine wastewater into Cement Creek.

As workers moved the debris that plugged the mine tunnel, millions of gallons of sludge spilled into a nearby creek, and from there to the other rivers.

"EPA is working closely with responders and local and state officials to monitor water contaminated by the release," the agency said.

"The release’s path flows through three of EPA’s regions -- Region 8 (Colorado/Utah & Southern Ute Tribe); Region 6 (New Mexico), and Region 9 (Navajo Nation). EPA has activated its Emergency Operations System to ensure coordination among its regions, laboratories and national program offices in Washington, D.C. EPA is closely coordinating with officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Southern Ute Tribe and Navajo Nation."

But Martinez disputes the EPA's claims of close coordination: "Initially we weren't even told that the toxic spill had ended up in the river."

Martinez said it took the EPA almost 24 hours to even notify New Mexico about the spill. "And it actually didn't even come from the EPA. The Ute -- the Southern Ute Indians are the ones who actually informed us that this toxic spill had taken place into the river."

Martinez noted that the heavy metals will settle in the water, and she said the problem could be exacerbated months from now by melting snow, which could stir things up again.

"They told us that there were 1 million gallons of toxic waste that was flowing into the river initially. And then it turned inton 3 million gallons. And EPA has admitted that they are responsible for this. And I'm hoping they will hold themselves to the same standards that they would hold any other industry or business."

In the meantime, the governor said she has instructed all ranchers to keep their cattle away from the river. People in the area have been told to stay away from the yellow waters and avoid drinking from wells and systems that may have been contaminated.

Environmental activist groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and EarthJustice, had nothing to say on their websites about the river contamination out West, although those groups are quick to blast the coal and energy industries and other (non-EPA) polluters.

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