May 10, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Trout Unlimited (TU) today praised the Environmental Protection Agency for its leadership in trying to clean up watersheds harmed by abandoned mine runoff. In a conference in Washington, D.C., EPA announced that legislation was being introduced in Congress to remove impediments to cleaning up abandoned mines.
“While we haven’t yet reviewed the legislation, EPA deserves a lot of credit for tackling one of the most significant -- and least addressed -- water quality problems that affects fisheries in 40 percent of western headwater streams,” said Chris Wood, vice president for conservation at TU.
EPA’s announcement follows its initiation of a “Good Samaritan Initiative” modeled on an agreement EPA and TU worked out to clean up abandoned mines in the American Fork River of Utah. As is the case in dozens of watersheds across the West, liability concerns had prevented the clean up of abandoned mines on lands owned by the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
On the American Fork, through a grant from a private foundation, TU stepped in and worked with the EPA on a model “Administrative Order of Consent” that minimized liability but allowed TU to move rock and mining debris to a repository and reclaim the scarred lands. According to Ted Fitzgerald, TU’s American Fork project director, “this project demonstrates that, with financial resources and relief from liability, a determined conservation organization can improve a watershed while reducing the impacts of abandoned mine runoff.”
Wood noted that, with the creation of a federal permitting process that encourages Good Samaritan restoration projects, TU would likely be able to expand its abandoned mine cleanup program. Already, thanks to contributions from private foundations and state and federal agencies, TU has restoration projects underway in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Colorado. “Dozens of other fish and wildlife organizations, watershed groups and local communities would also take up the challenge if more federal resources were provided, and liability relief made available,” Wood noted.
“The EPA is addressing one of the two greatest needs that we can identify for increasing the scope and scale of abandoned mine cleanup—the fear of liability,” he said. “The second is a lack of funding to adequately address the issue.”
“There’s no constituency for acid mine drainage. We have so much potential for good work in the West,” Wood said. “In communities throughout the West where abandoned mines and past mining activity have negatively impacted streams, we can improve fisheries, decrease water treatment costs, and improve water quality and habitat for fish and wildlife downstream.”
“Over the past few years, we have been encouraging Trout Unlimited members and other volunteers to get involved in abandoned mine cleanup efforts,” said Rob Roberts, a TU field coordinator in Missoula, Mont. Roberts helped produce a Web-based guide on how local communities and organizations can identify potential cleanup sites and locate funds for those projects. “The Grassroots Guide to Abandoned Mine Cleanup” can be found at www.tu.org/miningguide. Trout Unlimited also produced a report about the problems associated with abandoned mines titled “Settled, Mined and Left Behind.”
“With a streamlined Good Samaritan permitting process in place and steady sources of funding, local organizations will have the means to clean up abandoned mines that threaten their health and their local watersheds,” Roberts said. “Addressing these challenges will certainly help grassroots groups like Trout Unlimited to get involved and make a difference.”