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Colorado lawmakers pursue mine cleanup bill

Bennet, Gardner and Tipton seek to pass good Samaritan legislation

WASHINGTON – Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are continuing to pursue separate good Samaritan mine-restoration legislation, even as a new bill focusing on the same issue was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, has proposed the Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act, which would provide incentives for private organizations to clean up abandoned mines. It would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to offer limited liability protections for competent organizations.

Lamborn’s bill comes as part of a larger package of mining legislation that was introduced by the House Committee on Natural Resources on Thursday.

But at least three fellow Colorado lawmakers are a bit at odds with Lamborn over the bill. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, have doubts about the bill’s ability to pass, pointing out that it is part of a larger package.

“Introducing a bill that stands little chance of passing both the House and Senate – despite having good ideas in it – will not get the people and resources into the mines to execute cleanup efforts,” Tipton said in a statement soon after Lamborn introduced his bill. “Cleanup is, and has to continue to be, the primary goal.”

The EPA estimates that cleaning the nation’s hundreds-of-thousands of abandoned mines could cost more than $50 billion. State mining officials estimate that there are 23,000 hazardous mine features in Colorado.

Private organizations have been hesitant to dig in themselves, as they fear liability for accidentally contaminating water.

Previous efforts to pass good Samaritan legislation failed in Congress, which is why Tipton, Gardner and Bennet are looking for a bipartisan solution that stands a chance.

“We have had just a few years back a bipartisan good Samaritan bill pass out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee,” Gardner said. “If we can build on that language that passed, make sure that it is acceptable to members of the EPW Committee and then obviously the broader floor, I think we’ve got a great window to put this on the president’s desk.”

Peter Butler, co-coordinator for the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said his organization would like to take more of an active role in cleaning up abandoned mines, which is why the group has been working with lawmakers.

“There are lots of different ideas, and we’re not quite sure where they will land,” Butler said. “The reason they’ve had different ideas and things have been in flux is because they’ve been politically trying to find out the way to do it.”

Bennet spokesman Phil Clelland added: “This is obviously an important priority in Colorado, and we are working closely with community members and other stakeholders to craft a community-driven bill.”

egraham@durangherald.com. Edward Graham is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

Jan 8, 2016
Rep. Scott Tipton says passing Good Samaritan bill should be priority

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