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Proposal needs crucial changes

Washington, D.C. — EARTHWORKS has been working for over a decade to bring attention to the serious issue of abandoned metal mines in the West. Communities, agricultural lands, and our fish and wildlife resources are at risk from the water pollution caused by these old mines. A real solution is needed to address this pervasive problem that affects many western watersheds.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offered its version of a solution. While EARTHWORKS is pleased that the EPA is finally seeking to address pollution from the approximately 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines, the Administration bill comes up short on three main counts.

The Administration proposal lacks any funding source. The greatest barrier to abandoned mine clean-up in the West is, unlike the coal industry, the hardrock mining industry pays no royalty or fee. “Without funding this bill creates hope but will fail to deliver. It lacks the resources to solve the problem of abandoned mines in the West,” said Stephen D'Esposito, President of EARTHWORKS.

A second shortcoming of the bill is that it creates a Superfund liability waiver — an idea that has never been a part of the decade-long stakeholder dialogue on this issue. “EARTHWORKS is very concerned that this Superfund exemption sets an unnecessary precedent. And, it is not necessary for a Good Samaritan to act.” said D'Esposito.

A third shortcoming is the lack of an objective standard to make sure that old mines are actually cleaned up. The Administration bill also does not require baseline water testing. “The public needs to know that polluted water from these mines won't get worse as a result of activities authorized by this legislation,” continued D'Esposito.

EARTHWORKS supports effective and targeted “Good Samaritan” legislation, particularly when coupled with a mechanism to pay for clean-up through an Abandoned Mine Land Fund. To this end, great strides have been made by Representatives Mark Udall and John Salazar to create an appropriately limited Clean Water Act liability waiver for true Good Samaritans.

“EARTHWORKS believes there is a “Good Samaritan” consensus waiting to be assembled if a bill would address the real issues associated with abandoned mine clean-up. An open, transparent dialogue with all stakeholders could lead to support for such a proposal — but not this proposal” closed D'Esposito.