DENVER – Lawmakers from Southwest Colorado have not forgotten about the EPA’s January decision that it was not liable for damages to private entities as a result of the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
Senate Joint Resolution 43, which calls for the Attorney General to consult with Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Department of Public Health and Environment and sue the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the state of Colorado, was passed Monday by the Senate on a 25-10 vote.
Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the resolution was an opportunity to right a wrong done by the federal government and show the people of Southwest Colorado that the Legislature had not forgotten them and holds the EPA accountable.
“If this had happened to me, I can guarantee you I would not be here today. At best I would be bankrupt, at worst I would be in jail,” Coram said.
As a resolution, SJR 43 carries no power but would be sent to the governor, heads of the public health and Natural Resources departments, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and the state’s congressional delegation.
The votes against the measure were from Democrats, who were concerned that the state would be better off asking for the federal government to fully fund mine reclamation efforts in the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site and across the state.
“I wish we would spend our time with our resolution asking Congress to fund this program so Silverton could get some relief,” said Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville.
Jones added that a lawsuit could distract from reclamation efforts by the EPA.
Coram said that was not enough.
“If you’re one of those companies that had to lay off your employees, you had to borrow money to stay in business, this is important,” Coram said. “We need to send a strong, strong message to the EPA.”
Rep. Barbara McLachlan’s, D-Durango, also disagreed with the lawsuit approach.
McLachlan said she recognizes the impact to families and businesses in Southwest Colorado, but wants to see the resolution softened to allowed for options besides a lawsuit.
Among her concerns is the cost, she said. “I think we’re going to spend a lot more money on lawsuits and the whole legal process that should be put into remedying the situation.”
Her office is drafting an amendment to the resolution that calls for negotiations between Colorado and the EPA.
Coram said it was counterproductive to soften the resolution.
“I am not afraid to carry a big stick and say that we are going to sue the EPA to make the citizens of Colorado whole,” he said.
McLachlan is signed on as a sponsor of SJR 43 and will carry the resolution in the House provided it is amended to remove the pursuit of a lawsuit as the only option.
Otherwise, McLachlan said she intends to remove her name from the measure, in which case Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, would be the logical candidate to sponsor it.
The resolution heads to the House for consideration.