TU congratulates DeFazio for common-sense mining reform bill

July 11, 2014

Contact: Steve Moyer (703) 284-9403


Trout Unlimited welcomes Rep. DeFazios mining reform legislation

Bill provides mine cleanup funding and helps voluntary cleanups

WASHINGTONTrout Unlimited welcomed a bill introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon to create a revenue stream for abandoned mine cleanups and provide much-needed liability relief for voluntary Good Samaritan mine restoration.

There are more than 500,000 abandoned hard-rock mines across the West with an estimated cleanup cost ranging from $36-72 billion. Runoff from abandoned mines affects 40 percent of headwaters in the western United States.

It is imperative that a dedicated funding stream is created to clean up pollution from abandoned mines in important trout fisheries like Colorados Animas River, said Steve Moyer, TUs vice president of government affairs. We thank Rep. DeFazio for establishing a reclamation account in his bill.

The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act also addresses the liability obstacles that groups like Trout Unlimited face when trying to clean up abandoned mines. The bill helps Good Samaritansthose who have no legal obligation to take on an abandoned mine cleanup, but wish to do so in order to restore degraded streamsto comply with the Clean Water Act. The bill would provide legal protection for groups who clean up waste from abandoned mines. To date, the permitting process that allows for would-be Good Samaritans to initiate cleanups has been complex and restrictive.

Our experience is that the best solutions are found when stakeholders work together, Moyer said. We thank Rep. DeFazio for introducing this bill in order to keep alive the discussions about how best to update the General Mining Act of 1872.

TU has a long history of working to improve water quality and recover fisheries in watersheds degraded by abandoned mines. TU is presently cleaning up fisheries and water quality that has been affected by abandoned mines, including Utahs American Fork Canyon; Idahos upper Boise River; Montanas Eustache Creek; Colorados Snake River and Nevadas Maggie Creek, among others.

By using existing policy tools and avoiding project that trigger Clean Water Act liability, and with the support of some great partners such as Tiffany & Co. Foundation, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, and others, TU has made substantial progress in cleaning up abandoned mine impacts in several watersheds in the West.

The American Fork project in Utah, completed in partnership with Snowbird ski resort and the state, has improved water quality to the point where anglers can now catch cutthroat trout immediately downstream of the area where pollution used to run off mine tailings piles.

In the Colorados Kerber Creek Watershed, TU and its partners restored over 65 acres of mine tailings, stabilized stream banks, and installed hundreds of instream structures that are now home to brook trout. Volunteers logged over 13,000 hours of work in the watershed over the past three years. Its a striking example of the will that exists in local communities to restore their waters if given the chance.

Similar work in Montanas Clark Fork River Basin has resulted in the removal of thousands of cubic feet of mine tailings and the return of migratory fish to Ninemile Creek for the first time in 80 years.

Perhaps the best illustration of the positive affect of Good Samaritan cleanups comes from Pennsylvania, where Clean Water Act liability has historically not been a concern. Over the last 15 years, Pennsylvania has seen a dramatic increase abandoned mine reclamation projects by watershed groups, including TU. This boom has been fueled by funding from the states Growing Greener grant program and the federal Abandoned Mine Land reclamation fund. Most of these projects involve treatment of acid mine drainage using a series of wetlands that increase the waters pH and remove metals.These treatment systems have significantly improved water quality and restored fish populations in numerous Pennsylvania streams, proving that where reliable funding is available and liability barriers are removed, good things happen.