EPA head promises new look at claims, continued funding during tour of mine disaster site

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DURANGO, Colo -- For the first time, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency toured the site of a 2015 environmental disaster caused by agency officials.

The incident poured more than 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River, turning it yellow, and impacting drinking water and irrigation systems in three states.

"What we are committed to do is say to the people of Colorado that what the past administration did, when the EPA caused the spill and all that occurred and walked away from the responsibility, that's wrong," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said.

While the EPA has continued cleanup efforts, previously the agency said it would not be responsible for damage claims the disaster caused.

Pruitt said that policy has changed.

"I sent letters out to Coloradans months ago to say reapply, resubmit your claims so we can process and determine where we go from here," Pruitt said.

But how is Pruitt pledging so much attention in an era of apparent massive EPA budget cuts?

"Well, I don't know if you got the update or not, but the House is going through that process right now to address budget issues," Pruitt said.

That's despite President Donald Trump proposing a slash.

"About 60 percent of our cities in our portfolio are privately funded," Pruitt said.

Pruitt's implication is Superfund funding for the Gold King Mine spill will continue -- something Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner said to the public after their tour with Pruitt.

"The administrator, he could not have been more candid, saying they still accept responsibility and he is going to fight, despite the budgets coming out of the white house, that the Superfund budget is still one of his highest priorities," Hickenlooper said.

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