Supreme Court declines to hear arguments in mine spill suit

In this Aug. 12, 2015 photo, mine wastewater flows through a series of retention ponds built to contain and filter out heavy metals and chemicals from the Gold King Mine chemical accident in the spillway about 1/4 mile downstream from the mine, outside Silverton, Colo. Farmers, business owners and residents initially said they suffered $1.2 billion in lost income, property damage and personal injuries from the 2015 spill at the Gold King Mine. The total now appears to be about $420 million after attorneys for a handful of New Mexico property owners slashed their claims by $780 million. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear arguments on a New Mexico lawsuit against Colorado over a 2015 mine waste spill that polluted rivers in both states and Utah.

The nation’s high court made the announcement Monday. But the justices did say New Mexico could pursue its claims in a lower court.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman praised the decision and said New Mexico should not have sued Colorado because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency caused the disaster.

“Now that my office has won the Supreme Court case, I hope the conversation can focus on the EPA and its promise to take full responsibility for its actions,” Coffman said in a statement

James Hallinan, a spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said the Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which Colorado can be sued for harm done to New Mexico.

“Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill,” Hallinan said.

An Environmental Protection Agency crew accidentally triggered the August 2015 spill at the abandoned Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado. The spill released 3 million gallons of water laden with arsenic, cadmium, copper and other heavy metals.

The chemicals flowed into New Mexico and Utah and passed through the Navajo and Southern Ute Indian reservations.

New Mexico sued Colorado in June 2016, saying Colorado should be held accountable for the contamination as well as decades of toxic drainage from other abandoned mines.