Ian Shavitz Quoted in Law360 Story on Gold King Mine Spill

Ian Shavitz, senior counsel in the public law and policy practice at Akin Gump, was quoted in the Law360 article “EPA Unlikely To Shed Gold King Stigma Anytime Soon” regarding the August 2015 Gold King Mine dam breach. The result was a release of contaminated water that threatened the water supply of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as well as the reservations of the Navajo Nation and the Southern Ute Indian tribe.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has said it takes responsibility for the spill and that the environmental and compensation issues for those affected are being addressed, Shavitz said questions raised by federal reports on the spill’s causes have intensified pressure on the agency to come clean. “With respect to the Navajo Nation, it’s going to take a long time for that trust [with the EPA] to be built back up again,” he said.

Shavitz commented that the frustration for the Navajos and the lawmakers advocating on their behalf is made worse by the sense that the EPA has dealt more aggressively with environmental disasters blamed on private companies or other governments, such as the Flint, Michigan, lead-tainted drinking water crisis. “The EPA under this administration has gone after a lot of polluters, so it’s not surprising that when EPA is the polluter, people are going to go after them,” he added.

Further complicating matters with the Gold King spill, Shavitz said, is the EPA’s ambiguous position as the party responsible for the contamination, the regulator dealing with the consequences of the spill and a prospective defendant in criminal or civil litigation. This, Shavitz noted, makes it tough for the agency to respond to the Navajos’ requests for redress and could hamper its ability to bring a resolution to the controversy.

“While [the Navajos] may very well be reasonable, they may put the EPA in a position where they can’t fulfill those demands because in doing so, they could potentially be affecting their defense in a lawsuit if it goes forward,” Shavitz said. The Justice Department, however, may take a wait-and-see approach on moving forward with any potential criminal investigation, he added, anticipating yet another report on the incident — this time from the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General.