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In wake of Gold King spill, lawmakers push for cleaning up mines

In the year since the Gold King Mine blowout, congressional leaders have pushed several bills addressing the spill and other issues associated with leaking abandoned mines. Some, including the discussion draft of the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act and the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act, were in the works before the spill but took on a renewed sense of purpose after the disaster.

Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act

Proposed by: Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez.

Discussion draft released: Jan. 19

Key points

Would allow third-party groups to apply for permits to clean up abandoned mines.Groups would need to detail plans for remediation.Groups could be held liable for straying from narrowly-tailored permit terms.Does not allow remining of sites.Applies to abandoned mine sites “used for the production of a mineral other than coal.”Status: Hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Jan. 26 was postponed because of weather. Gardner and Bennet testified at a March 3 hearing on the draft bill. The bill has not been officially introduced.

Abandoned Mine Reclamation Safety Act

Would allow third-party groups to apply for permits to clean up abandoned mines.Groups would need to detail plans for remediation.Groups could be held liable for straying from narrowly-tailored permit terms.Does not allow remining of sites.Applies to abandoned mine sites “used for the production of a mineral other than coal.”Status: Hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Jan. 26 was postponed because of weather. Gardner and Bennet testified at a March 3 hearing on the draft bill. The bill has not been officially introduced.

Sponsored by: Rep. Raúl Grijal, D-Arizona.

Introduced: Jan. 6

Key points

Directs secretary of the Interior and others to develop “safe and environmentally responsible reopening of abandoned mines for the sole purpose of facilitating cleanup or remediation of conditions at such mines.”Applies to coal and non-coal mines.Seeks to incorporate recommendations from the Bureau of Reclamation’s report, “Technical Evaluation of the Gold King Mine Incident, San Juan County, Colorado,” released two months after the spill.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources on Jan. 6 and subsequently referred to the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on Jan. 7. Grijalva, along with five others, sent a letter on March 24 to House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, to formally request a hearing for this bill and the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015.

Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act

Sponsored by: Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. Co-sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Introduced: Nov. 5 to coincide with the three-month mark since the Gold King Mine blowout.

Key points

First major overhaul to the General Mining Law of 1872.Would set limits on patenting of federal lands and sites located under the general mining law.Would set a 2 to 5 percent royalty fee on new hardrock mining operations. Other extractive industries such as coal, oil and gas pay a royalty fee.Would establish a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund to help finance abandoned mine cleanup efforts.Would charge mining companies annual rental payments on use of public lands.

Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Nov. 5. No further action has been taken as of July.

Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act

Sponsored by: Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Co-sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

Introduced: Sept. 22

Key points

Would “amend the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 to address mining-related issues, and for other purposes.”Would entitle people affected by the mine spill to receive compensation from the U.S. government, and would call for the establishment of an Office of Gold King Mine Spill Claims within the EPA.Would call for EPA to “work with affected States and Indian tribes to develop, fund, and implement a long-term monitoring program for water quality of the Animas and San Juan Rivers in response to the Gold King Mine spill.”

Status: Read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Sept. 22. A related bill, also called the Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act, was introduced in the House by Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., on Sept. 24 and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Judiciary. It was subsequently referred to subcommittees of each of those committees. No further action had been taken as of July.

Three-bill package

A package of mining legislation was introduced by the House Committee on Natural Resources following oversight hearings into the Gold King Mine spill.

Mining Schools Enhancement Act

Sponsored by: Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev.

Introduced: Oct. 9

Key points

Addresses a shortage of mining experts proficient in technical and engineering issues.“Would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to provide support to mining schools, and for other purposes.”Would call for the director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to allocate at least 70 percent of applicable program funding to “enhance and support mining and mineral engineering programs in the United States by funding activities at mining schools.”According to the committee, none of the more than 15,000 EPA employees, at the time of the bill’s introduction, were mining experts.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources on Oct. 9, and then to the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on Oct. 21. Field Hearing held inside the Edgar Mine in Idaho Springs, Colorado, on Dec. 14 – the first congressional hearing held inside a mine. The Natural Resources Committee held a mark-up session for the bill on June 14 and 15, and sent July 5 to the full House, where it will be discussed and debated.

Bureau of Land Management Foundation Act (formerly the Energy and Minerals Reclamation Foundation Establishment Act)

Sponsored by: Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga.

Introduced: Oct. 28

Key points

Would establish a foundation to encourage and use gifts and bequests for reclamation projects.Proposed foundation would be allowed to solicit public contributions to facilitate cleanups at abandoned mining, oil and gas sites.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources on Oct. 28, and subsequently referred to the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources the same day. Subcommittee hearing on legislation held Nov. 4. The title of the bill was changed and it was passed July 5 by the House. The bill was sent to the Senate, where it was referred July 6 to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Locatable Minerals Claim Location and Maintenance Fees Act

Sponsored by: Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.

Introduced: Oct. 28

Key points

Would “authorize for a 7-year period the collection of claim location and maintenance fees, and for other purposes” by the Bureau of Land Management.Good Samaritan provisions to allow willing third-party groups to conduct abandoned mine cleanups with certain liability protections.Good Samaritan provision would apply to abandoned coal and non-coal mines.

Status: Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, as well as the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Energy and Commerce, on Oct. 28, and subsequently to subcommittees. Committee hearing held by House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on Nov. 4, mark-up session held June 14 and 15 and bill sent to full House on June 15. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., added language to the bill concerning Good Samaritan cleanup of abandoned mines. The language requires Good Samaritan groups to take necessary precautions when carrying out remediation work at abandoned mine sites.

Recently introduced legislation
Gold King Accountability and Compensation for Taxpayers

Sponsored by: Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Introduced: May 18.

Key Points

Require EPA to fully reimburse communities for costs related to the spill. Require EPA to work with local governments and tribes to create a long-term water quality monitoring program for the Animas River. Expedite compensation for emergency response costs incurred by local governments, counties and tribes. The bill would require the EPA to process and pay emergency response claims, including those filed after Oct. 31, as long as the submitted action is consistent with standard emergency response costs listed in federal law.

Status: Read twice on May 18 and referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Gardner and Hatch sent a letter July 14 to Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, formally requesting a hearing.

Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017

Sponsored by: In the House by Rep. Ken Calvert, R-California, and in the Senate by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Introduced: In the House on June 21, and in the Senate on June 16.

Key points

House and Senate versions of the bill include a provision to continue the $90 million pilot program for a mine reclamation fund. The Senate Committee on Appropriations report that accompanied its version of the bill states that a long-term water quality monitoring program for the Animas River should be enacted. The report also states that the EPA should process all state, tribal and local reimbursement requests in an “expeditious” manner. In the House, Tipton added language in an amendment that the EPA shall continue to maintain and operate a temporary water treatment plant while it works to add the Gold King Mine and other sites to the National Priorities List through the federal Superfund program.

Status: The bill was passed by the House on July 14. It awaits passage in the Senate.

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