Utah wins early rounds in lawsuit over 2015 Gold King Mine 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 outside Silverton, Colo. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking a federal court in New Mexico to toss out a lawsuit over a mine waste spill in Colorado that polluted rivers in three states. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

A federal judge on Tuesday kept alive Utah’s share of a lawsuit over the 2015 gold mine spill that flowed into rivers.

Utah is suing companies it says are responsible for the spill and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose workers caused the wastewater and heavy metals to flow from the Gold King Mine into the Animas and San Juan rivers and to Lake Powell.

A judge in Albuquerque, N.M., denied a motion by some of the companies to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge also left open the possibility defendants will have to pay punitive damages.

The rulings were largely on technical grounds. Judge William P. Johnson noted there had not yet been a hearing to consider evidence in the lawsuit, and so Utah had to receive the benefit of the doubt.

No trial date has been set.

The defendants include owners of other gold mines accused of creating the sludge that seeped into and then escaped Gold King. One such owner is Sunnyside Gold Corp.

Its reclamation director, Kevin Roach, said Wednesday that “SGC is not the cause of water quality issues in the Animas River."

“We remain confident that the court will ultimately find that we have no liability for the blowout at Gold King, a mine we have never owned or operated.” Roach said in a statement. "Our mining and successful court-approved remediation activities in the Silverton Caldera have each improved water quality in the Animas River and helped to reduce metals loading to near historic lows.”

In his own statement, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said the rulings benefited the Beehive State.

“We have a duty to enforce the environmental laws," he said, "to protect and preserve our natural resources, and to provide a legacy for future generations of Utahns.”