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EPA Claims No Legal Authority to Pay $1.2 Billion in Gold King Spill Cleanup Claims

Agency cites sovereign immunity, lack of Congressional authority.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that the agency is not legally able to pay compensation for claims brought in connection with the three million gallons of waste released from the Gold King Mine. The decision, which was announced during the waning days of the Obama administration, counters earlier statements by the agency that it was “committed to continue working hand in hand with the impacted local governments, states, and tribes.”
More than 70 claims totaling $1.2 billion have been filed since the August 2016 spill. Damages ranged from contaminated wells to crop damage and local government expenses. But the EPA’s independent claims officer — with guidance from the Justice Department — ruled that “the circumstances surrounding the Gold King Mine incident unfortunately do not meet the conditions necessary to pay claims.” Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, federal agencies are not authorized to pay claims resulting from government actions that are discretionary — that is, acts of a governmental nature or function and that involve the exercise of judgment. Claimants have six months to challenge the decision in United States District Court.


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