U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Thursday introduced the latest attempt to pass a “good Samaritan” bill that would allow groups to do cleanup work on abandoned mines without facing risky liabilities.
For years, legislatures from both parties have tried, and failed, to pass a bill that would protect environmental and conservation groups from stringent clean-water standards that have historically kept them from doing cleanup work on inactive or abandoned mines.
But with the number of abandoned mines estimated to be as high as 500,000, Gardner and Tipton said in a joint statement that good Samaritans need to be enlisted in the cleanup cause.
The Colorado Republicans’ bill would create a pilot program to allow qualified good Samaritans to clean up the sites without risk of liability.
“There are many good Samaritan groups that have the technical expertise, financial ability and desire to conduct successful remediation at abandoned mines,” Tipton said in a statement. “But they are discouraged from taking on projects due to current regulations.”
The effort to enact good Samaritan legislation was revived after the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015, which sent a torrent of mine wastewater from the inactive mine north of Silverton into the Animas River.
Politicians have generally agreed there needs to be some measure of protection to allow groups outside the federal government to tackle the many abandoned or inactive mines throughout the West. But the specifics of the bill are where disagreements arise.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who worked with Gardner on a similar version of a good Samaritan bill in 2016, has not shown support for the Gardner-Tipton iteration.
“We are willing to work with anyone to pass good Samaritan legislation with appropriate environmental safeguards,” Bennet said in a statement. “We have a strong history of working together in our delegation. ... We should restart the conversation in that spirit.”
Some environmental groups, too, oppose good Samaritan legislation, arguing the bill would let mining companies off the hook for cleanup costs.
“The real solution to the problem of abandoned mines is reform of the 1872 Mining Law, complete with a dedicated funding mechanism designed specifically to pay for the cleanup of abandoned mines,” Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ policy director, said in a statement.
The pilot project would identify 15 mining sites for cleanup.
“The opportunity to clean up the environment around these sites is crucial, and this pilot program will finally allow for the long-overdue process to begin,” Gardner said in a statement. “I understand changes may be necessary to get this bill across the finish line, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to evaluate their feedback.”