EPA says it won’t pay damages from mine spill

Mine Waste Spill
FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine wastewater accident, in the spillway downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo. Republicans in Congress say an Interior Department investigation glossed over the federal government’s negligence in a massive toxic wastewater spill that fouled rivers in three states. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is scheduled to testify on the matter Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, before a House committee. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

DENVER (AP) – The Environmental Protection Agency won’t repay claims totaling over $1.2 billion for economic damages from a mine waste spill the agency accidentally triggered in Colorado, saying the law prohibits it.

The EPA said Friday the claims could be refiled in federal court, or Congress could authorize payments.

But government attorneys concluded the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.

An official announcement is planned later Friday. The Associated Press was provided outlines of the decision in advance.

The 2015 spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater into Colorado, New Mexico and Utah rivers.

Those filing claims included farmers, rafting companies and their employees who lost income and wages while the rivers were unusable for irrigation, livestock and recreation.