WED: EPA Settles With Utah Over Gold King Mine Spill, State Offers Rescue Loans, + More

Aug 5, 2020

EPA Settles With Utah Over 2015 Colorado Mine Spill - By Brady McCombs, Associated Press

The U.S. government settled a lawsuit Wednesday brought by the state of Utah over a mine waste spill caused by federal workers that sent wastewater downstream to several states from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado five years ago.

Utah's lawsuit was one of several legal claims filed over the incident, but no other settlements have been reached.

The Environmental Protection Agency says it agreed to fund $3 million in Utah clean water projects and spend $220 million of its own money to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

The Navajo Nation filed a claim for $162 million, and the state of New Mexico for $130 million.

The spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine to pollute rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including on Navajo Nation lands. Some waterways turned an orange-yellow color.

An EPA-led contractor crew inadvertently triggered the spill. The crew was using heavy equipment to excavate the mine opening in preparation for a possible cleanup when a worker breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater in the shaft.

The EPA estimates that nearly 540 U.S. tons of metals reached the Animas River, mostly iron and aluminum.

After the spill, the EPA designated the Gold King and 47 other mining sites in the area a Superfund district. It is reviewing options for a broad cleanup.

This story was first published on Aug. 5, 2020. It was updated on Aug. 6, 2020, to correct that the EPA will not provide an additional $360 million to Utah as state officials said. The EPA is spending $220 million of its own funds to clean up abandoned mine sites in Colorado and Utah.

New Mexico Starts Offering Rescue Loans To Small BusinessesAssociated Press

State finance officials started accepting applications Wednesday for low-interest loans that are designed to help small businesses endure the financial stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

Legislation approved in June sets aside up to $400 million in state trust funds for loans to individual businesses of up to $75,000 each.

Eligibility is limited to businesses with less than $5 million in annual revenue. Applicants also must show a 30% decline in monthly revenue in April and May versus a year ago.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the loan program a cornerstone of the state's response to the economic crisis. The New Mexico Finance Authority administers the new loan program.

In other news, Albuquerque zoo facilities will partially reopen next week to visitors wearing face masks or other face coverings after being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Current statewide health orders prohibit indoor restaurant service, require face masks in public, ban public gatherings of more than four people and have suspend classroom attendance at public schools until at least early September.

State Reports 229 New COVID-19 Cases And 9 DeathsKUNM, Associated Press

State officials announced 229 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday and 9 deaths. New Mexico has now had a total of 21,566 cases and 667 people have died.

Four of Wednesday’s deaths were among people in long-term or acute care facilities. Department of Health officials have found at least one case among residents and/or staff in 50 of these facilities over the last month.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new COVID-19 cases in New Mexico has declined slightly over the past two weeks, going from 275 new cases per day on July 21 to 233 new cases per day on Aug. 4, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Court Upholds Health Order Fines For New Mexico Businesses - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press, KUNM

The New Mexico State Supreme Court has upheld the governor's authority to fine businesses as much as $5,000 per day for violations of emergency health orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The court heard arguments from businesses claiming the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overstepped its authority in response to the pandemic.

The ruling was unanimous in the governor's favor. Chief Justice Michael Vigil says the Legislature clearly gave the governor authority to apply administrative fines higher than the $100 citations the businesses claimed was the maximum allowed.

The state has fined 16 businesses up to $5,000 a day.

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce condemned the court's decision and promised to make it an issue in November elections as two appointed Democratic justices defend their seats.

Justice Shannon Bacon is confronting the Republican Ned Fuller, a deputy district attorney in San Juan County, while Justice David Thomson is running against Republican former prosecutor Kerry Morris of Albuquerque.

The Supreme Court plans to issue written guidance soon on the question of whether administrative sanctions against health-order violations constitute a "taking" that warrants compensation.

The governor's office says that the outcomes of recent litigation in Illinois, Colorado, New York and California support its position that enforcement of its emergency health order does not require compensation.

State Reports 214 New COVID-19 Cases KUNM, Associated Press

State health officials reported 214 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and three additional deaths.

New Mexico has had a total of 21,340 coronavirus cases and 658 people have died.

Two of the three deaths were among people in acute care or long-term care facilities. The Department of Health has identified at least one positive COVID-19 case in residents and/or staff in 47 such facilities over the last month.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Mexico has risen slightly over the past two weeks from 277 new cases per day to 282 new cases per day on Aug. 3, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The average rate of positive tests has declined slightly over the past few weeks. Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.

Navajo Nation Reports 17 More COVID-19 Cases, 1 More Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 17 more cases of COVID-19 and one additional death. That brings the total number of people who’ve tested positive on the reservation to 9,156 and the known death toll to 463 as of Tuesday night. 

Tribal health officials say 82,708 people have been tested for the coronavirus and 6,747 have recovered. 

Last week, lawmakers on the Navajo Nation approved a massive spending bill to respond to the coronavirus pandemic that includes money for water projects, power lines, broadband and casino employees who have been laid off.

Ex-New Mexico Democratic Congressman Backs GOP Candidate - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

A Republican seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in a crucial New Mexico House seat has picked up an endorsement from a former Democratic congressman. 

Former U.S. Rep. Harry Teague once held Torres Small's seat and said Tuesday he is backing Yvette Herrell in November. 

Teague says Herrell appreciates the impact the energy industry has on the state and will reach across party lines. 

Teague held the southern New Mexico seat from 2009 until 2011 and was the first Democrat to win the seat in nearly 30 years. He lost after voting for a bill aimed at curbing greenhouse gasses. 

In a statement, Torres Small said Teague spent one term working hard to represent the people of southern New Mexico but did not address Teague's support of her opponent.

Torres Small beat Herrell in 2018 by less than 4,000 votes and issues around oil and natural gas are expected to play central roles in this closely watched U.S. House rematch. The district sits in the part of the Permian Basin drilling area.

Document Sheds Light On Shooting Death Of Basketball Recruit - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A summary of witness statements is shedding light on the events surrounding the shooting death of a college basketball recruit in northern New Mexico. 

The "probable cause" statement cites multiple direct and indirect witnesses to the shooting that has led to murder and criminal weapons charges against a detained 16-year-old Santa Fe resident. Names are blacked out of witnesses who were interviewed by investigators from the sheriff's department.

High school basketball standout Fedonta White pleaded with friends to help him survive after being shot in an altercation with an individual at a house party on the outskirts of Santa Fe. He also named the person who shot him before departing for a hospital where he would die, according to the summary. 

Multiple people told investigators that they saw the confrontation. 

White's death has led to an outpouring of public grief.

An attorney for the defendant could not immediately be reached by phone or email. The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles who are accused of crimes.

A hearing is scheduled in state district court next week as prosecutors have vowed to pursue adult sanctions.

Oil Refinery In Gallup Planning To Close By End Of This Year KRQE-TV, Associated Press

An oil refinery that halted operations when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit New Mexico plans to permanently close by the end of this year.

KRQE-TV reports Marathon Petroleum, which owns the oil refinery and employs about 220 people, told workers of the pending closure last Friday.

A spokesperson with Marathon Petroleum said in statement that "the Gallup refinery and terminal will be idled indefinitely with no plans to restart normal operations" and a phased reduction of staffing levels is expected to begin in October.  

Gallup Mayor Louie Bonaguidi says it's a devastating blow for the city of some 22,000 people since the refinery has been around for 65 years. With the closure, New Mexico will be down to one oil refinery, that being in Artesia.  

New Mexico Holocaust Museum Hit By Vandalism - Associated Press

The New Mexico Holocaust Museum and Gellert Center for Education was vandalized just as the burial of U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis was being televised. 

Museum executive director Leon Natker told the Albuquerque Journal the large window of the downtown Albuquerque museum was shattered Thursday. 

Behind the window was a large photo of an early 1960s civil rights march, part of a movement in which Lewis was a leader. 

Natker says it was no coincidence the attack happened just as the funeral of Lewis was being broadcast. 

No arrests have been made.

Tags: