‘Good Samaritan Law’ would clear liability hurdles to third-party abandoned mine cleanups.
- Drew YoungeDyke, Trout Unlimited National Communications DIrector, Drew.YoungeDyke@tu.org
- Mary Jo Brooks, NWF Communications Manager, BrooksM@nwf.org
Arlington, VA. – The Senate Energy & Public Works Committee today passed by unanimous consent bipartisan ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation that would help clean up chronic pollution leaking from abandoned hardrock mines. The legislation will now be considered by the full Senate, where the bill is supported by 28 Senators split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.
“This is a victory for common sense,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The Good Samaritan bill will allow organizations such as TU that had nothing to do with the creation of mining pollution to clean it up. We thank Senators Risch and Heinrich for their years of attention to addressing the greatest threat to water quality in our nation.”
The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2023 — sponsored by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and James Risch (R-ID) – creates a pilot permitting program for entities which had no role in causing the pollution to clean up abandoned mine waste at up to 15 low-risk sites without the threat of long-term legal and financial liability currently imposed by the existing laws. This will allow state agencies and nonprofit organizations such as Trout Unlimited to reduce the pollution impairing our waters, even if it is not feasible to achieve 100% of Clean Water Act standards.
“For more than half a century, abandoned hardrock mines have contaminated our waters and lands with toxins that put fish, wildlife, drinking water, and local communities at risk. The bipartisan Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act is a long-overdue, common-sense bill designed to accelerate cleanup efforts by removing barriers for conservation groups and partners so they can restore degraded waterways and landscapes,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We commend the leadership of Senators Heinrich, Risch, Kelly, and Lummis – and all of the bipartisan co-sponsors – for forging a path forward on this critical issue.”
The EPA estimates that 40 percent of western headwater streams are negatively affected by abandoned mine waste. These should be the sources of cold, clean water upon which trout and salmon depend. Acid mine drainage leaks toxic metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic, impairing 110,000 miles of freshwater streams. However, under current law, ‘Good Samaritan’ entities and state agencies wishing to clean up acid mine drainage can be held liable and face legal jeopardy for pollution they didn’t create.
“There is no constituency for yellow rivers or acid mine drainage,” said Wood. “Cleaning up abandoned mines is one of the few issues that mining companies, states, and conservation interests can agree. We just need Congress to act.”
“The current law treats those who want to clean up abandoned mines as if they themselves are polluters,” said Corey Fisher, Public Lands Policy Director for TU. “This common-sense legislation would allow us to get started cleaning up abandoned mines that will otherwise continue polluting the environment. We’re ready to get to work under this pilot program to help make our water cleaner and communities healthier. Today’s vote in committee gets us one important step closer.”
Learn more about Good Samaritan legislation and Trout Unlimited’s work to clean up abandoned mines at https://www.tu.org/good-samaritan/.
About Trout Unlimited:
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities.
About the National Wildlife Federation:
Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state and territorial affiliates and more than seven million members and supporters, including hunters, anglers, gardeners, birders, hikers, campers, paddlers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes. The Federation’s mission is to unite all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in our rapidly changing world through programming focused on conserving wildlife, restoring habitats and waterways, expanding outdoor opportunities, connecting children with nature, and addressing the causes and consequences of climate change.