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Mining reclamation requires funding

Water flows out of the American Tunnel in the Gladstone area north of Silverton where the Animas River Stakeholders Group wants to eliminate toxic waste from four closed mines.

Mining-reclamation experts this week told a congressional panel that good Samaritan legislation and funding for restoration efforts are “inseparably tied together.”

The comments came during a hearing Wednesday on good Samaritan cleanups of abandoned mines, held by the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Much of the hearing focused on the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill, in which an error by an Environmental Protection Agency-contracted team caused an estimated 3 million gallons of mining sludge to pour into the Animas River.

In the wake of the Gold King incident, Congress has taken a look at how to address tens of thousands of inactive leaking mines across the nation. At least 23,000 mines have been identified in Colorado alone.

The debate has hit familiar political currents, with Republicans pushing back against efforts to collect fees and royalties from hard-rock mining to fund restoration efforts. Instead, the GOP favors legislative efforts to eliminate liability concerns for private entities – referred to as good Samaritans – who want to independently restore inactive mines.

But experts who have been actively involved in the debate said the two proposals are not mutually exclusive, suggesting that there is a need for both efforts.

“The lesson from Gold King is not so much that an EPA contractor screwed up, as it is that we need to have a much greater sense of urgency about addressing the problem of pollution from abandoned mines all across the nation,” said Chris Wood, president and chief executive of Trout Unlimited.

Republicans on the committee pushed back, highlighting that good Samaritan legislation might be the only pragmatic thing to consider.

“Would you prefer having no cleanup be performed at an abandoned mine site, or having a good Samaritan perform a cleanup?” asked Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana.

Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, said it is not an either/or conversation.

“I would hope we could also get good Samaritans additional funding from reclamation funds to do these cleanups,” Pagel said.

Doug Young, senior policy director for the Keystone Policy Center in Colorado, cautioned against repeating the same discussions from the past, encouraging lawmakers to steer away from addressing the issue through the Clean Water Act.

Instead, Young suggested taking a look at reforms to the federal Superfund program, which targets blighted areas. He also advocated for offering incentives to good Samaritans to bring their own resources.

“I agree this is a major funding issue,” Young said. “I just think there’s a way we can do this without directly having to assess a fee or royalty.”


Jan 20, 2022
Independent report blames EPA for Gold King spill
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