By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Fresh off her U.S. Congressional Republican primary win, candidate Harriet Hageman is already back in the courtroom fighting against the federal government.
In late August, Judge Armando Bonilla of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims denied a motion made by the federal government to dismiss Hageman’s case against the Environmental Protection Agency and its handling of the Gold King Mine disaster in Colorado. The decision was made after Hageman’s team made their case in a Washington, D.C. courtroom on Aug. 30.
The judge’s decision is a major win for Hageman and her client.
Hageman is senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights organization which claims to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the “Administrative State.”
The New Civil Liberties Alliance is representing Colorado resident Todd Hennis in a lawsuit against the United States for the physical taking of his property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Hageman, a land and water attorney, beat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney in her primary bid for a fourth term on Aug. 16. Hageman will take on Democrat Lynette Grey Bull and two minor party candidates in the general election Nov. 8.
In August 2015, a contractor working under the EPA destroyed the opening to a mine located on Hennis’ property.
The accidental blowout resulted in 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage and sludge and 880,000 pounds of metal spilling into a scenic river in Southwest Colorado, later reaching New Mexico and Lake Powell in California. The affected area was declared an environmental disaster zone by former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“Mr. Hennis has been waiting over seven years for EPA to be held accountable for not only the environmental disaster it created, but its decision to take his property without paying for it,” Hageman said in a statement. “With today’s decision, Mr. Hennis will finally have an opportunity to pursue his claims against the U.S. and vindicate his constitutional rights.”
The government has until Sept. 29 to respond to the judge’s decision.
Action And Response
In response to the spill, the EPA mobilized supplies and equipment onto Hennis’s downstream property and built a multi-million-dollar water treatment facility there without his permission.
Hennis alleges the agency ignored his instructions on how he wanted the government to access his land and the best way to do it.
After seven years of clean up, Hennis filed his lawsuit and said the U.S. Government “squatted on his lands,” demanding financial compensation.
The EPA says the water treatment plant was built to mitigate the spill damage. The governmental agency and Hennis had come to an oral argument about this construction that was memorialized in at least 16 written documents.
Hennis said this agreement was coerced and invalid as it included fines of more than $59,000 per day if he didn’t comply. According to court documents, Hennis expressed concern about the EPA causing a natural disaster at least four years prior to the actual disaster. An EPA order forced him to allow government officials on his property to inspect the mine, which later led to the spill.
The EPA said the need to respond to an emergency and Hennis’ consent precludes any argument that it illegally took his land.
The cleanup has cost $44.5 million with $20.7 million in additional costs expected in the future. None of these costs include compensation to Hennis, who says he has been unable to develop his land since this event.