Colorado's attorney general maintained that it was too early to determine if she, or the other attorneys general for the states impacted by the toxic, heavy metal spill into the Animas and San Juan Rivers, would bring a lawsuit against the federal government, but said she is giving it the opportunity to "do the right thing."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it takes full responsibility for the accidental spill that turned the Animas River mustard yellow last week when water contaminated with lead and arsenic poured from the Gold King Mine in Silverton, Colorado, when crews were working on an assessment.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in Colorado Wednesday said monitoring of water samples revealed the Animas River was back to "pre-event conditions," proving the river was restoring itself.
The Animas River is pictured on August 11, 2015 in Durango, Colorado. The Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released approximately three million gallons of wastewater into the river from the Gold King mine last week. (Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)
But Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, after meeting with the attorneys of New Mexico and Utah, was cautious.
"As pretty as the Animas looks to us [now] ... this is not the end of the story. This is the beginning," Coffman said Wednesday afternoon.
"What we realize as attorneys ... is that damage sometimes doesn't show up for months, even years," she said, going on to explain that while it's good news that there have not been widespread fish deaths as a result of the spill of 3 million gallons of chemicals from the mine, it doesn't mean that contamination won't show up in the animals later.
"So we have to be vigilant as attorneys general, as the lawyers for the state, as protectors for the environment, to be sure that the assurances that we receive today from the Environmental Protection Agency are the same in two years, in five years, in 10 years, when we discover what the damage to the environment actually is," she said, adding that she "[cautions] folks who are ready to celebrate."
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman says she wants to give the federal government the opportunity to do the right thing in responding to the spill of toxic chemicals into the Animas and San Juan Rivers. (Image source: KCNC-TV)
"It is great to have the assurances of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is the job of the attorney general to hold folks accountable and that's what I'm going to do in the state of Colorado," Coffman said.
Coffman said she was going to be "prudent" in her comments regarding the potential for a state lawsuit, believing "it is too early to know if litigation is necessary or appropriate."
"As I mentioned earlier, I have some reassurance by the fact that the EPA has acknowledged responsibility and has said that they are going to make people whole, they're going to respond to claims," Coffman said. "I think the federal government has an opportunity to do that. Just as anyone else who's in the position of having caused a man-made environmental catastrophe deserves the opportunity to do that."
"I think we all have to be cautions and circumspect in the language that we use and give our federal partners an opportunity to do the right thing," she added later.
Watch Coffman's full remarks, along with those from New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes: