TU supports bill establishing mine cleanup fund

Nov. 5, 2015
Ty Churchwell, tchurchwell@tu.org, (970) 903-3010
TU backs bill to establish fund for mine cleanups
Calls legislation a ‘key piece’ of mine runoff solution
DURANGO, Colo.Trout Unlimited praised a bill introduced today by Colorado and New Mexico lawmakers that would reform the 1872 Mining Law to require the collection of royalties from companies mining on federal lands to provide a dedicated source of funds for cleaning up abandoned mines.
Sens. Tom Udall, D-NM, Martin Heinrich, D-NM, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., today unveiled the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015, which requires mining companies to pay royalties for extracting minerals from public lands. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM, introduced similar legislation in the House. Lawmakers said the billa response to the catastrophic Gold King Mine spill that dumped 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into the Animas River above Durangowill help prevent and clean up future disasters.
This is a key piece in efforts to protect our rivers and communities from the ongoing impacts of mining pollution, said Brad Powell, director of Trout Unlimiteds Sportsmens Conservation Project for the Southwest region. This bill would provide the war chest to help take on these difficult, costly cleanups.
The outdated 1872 Mining Law allows hardrock mining companies to extract gold, silver, copper and other minerals from public land without paying any royalties to fund cleanups of past or present mining impacts. Thats not the case with the coal and oil and gas industries, which for decades have been required to pay royalties to cover the costs of cleanups and restoration.
It just makes sense to create the same kind of clean-up fund for hardrock mines, said Powell. Mining companies that benefit from development on public lands should play a key role in the cleanup and not leave the bill for taxpayers.
Trout Unlimited also supports efforts by Sens. Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton to craft bipartisan Good Samaritan legislation, which would provide legal protection to so-called Good Samaritan groups like TU whose efforts to voluntarily clean up old mine sites have been hampered by liability concerns and the high cost of cleanups. Rep. Lamborn of Colorado also recently introduced legislation which contained a promising Good Sam provision.
We need both pieces of legislation, said Ty Churchwell, TUs San Juan Mountains project coordinator. Good Sam legislation would give groups more incentives to tackle these difficult cleanups of abandoned mines. But we also need the funding piece to make sure the work gets done.
In Colorado, mine runoff is the leading source of damage to the health of states rivers and streams. There are thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado, and some 230 of those sites are seeping a toxic brew of heavy metals in amounts that degrade nearby streams and rivers. The pollution has left about 1,645 miles of state streams classified as impaired, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Besides the Durango area, which suffered the brunt of the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Nederland, Georgetown, Gunnison and other mountain towns threatened by festering mines are calling for faster action on cleanups.
A U.S. Department of Interior report released last week warned that the unstable conditions that led to the Gold King blowout are in fact surprisingly prevalent in other mines in Colorado and across the West.
We need a sense of urgency in addressing this toxic threat to our rivers and communities, said Churchwell. We hope Congress moves quickly on this legislation.
TU recently produced a video on the Animas spill. See the short video here. For more information, go to www.sanjuancleanwater.org.
Trout Unlimited is a non-profit organization with 155,000 members nationwide dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North Americas coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Colorado Trout Unlimited has 24 chapters and more than 10,000 members in the state. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and visit us online at tu.org.