Policy comes after years of work by Senator Mark Udall
Lack of funding still main obstacle to reclaiming hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines
Washington, D.C. — Today, the EPA aided abandoned mine cleanup efforts by assuring Good Samaritans who would perform such cleanup that they do not need Clean Water Act permits — if they enter into a formal agreement with EPA. Clean Water Act concerns have given pause to some Good Samaritans who want to help clean up some of the nation’s hundreds of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) has been a staunch advocate for Good Samaritans on this issue, pressing the EPA to help ensure mine cleanups throughout Colorado.
“While we applaud the EPA for aiding Good Samaritan clean ups of abandoned hardrock mines, this policy does nothing to remove the greatest barrier to abandoned mine clean-up in the West: a steady funding source,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks.
Unlike the coal industry, hardrock mining companies pay no mine reclamation fee for the minerals they remove from public lands – an important source of revenue that has been instrumental in cleaning up abandoned coal mines. Many large-scale hardrock mines cause long-term pollution for surrounding ground and surface waters — harming important drinking water supplies, agricultural lands, and fish and wildlife habitat.
For example, the Zortman Landusky Mine in Montana has polluted over a dozen streams and over a dozen streams, and taxpayers are paying to treat its toxic runoff, which is expected to continue for centuries.
“It’s time for Congress and the EPA to take actions that will have a serious impact on the water pollution caused by mining,” said Pagel. “Mining companies should be required to help pay for clean up, and pay upfront to ensure clean water is protected.”
Since 2009, EPA has also considered using its authority under the Superfund law to ensure that mining companies put money in a fund upfront to cover future clean up costs. This would make sure that current mines are fully reclaimed when mining has ceased, and that perpetual water pollution is continually treated, long after the mine has closed.
“Polluters should pay for the pollution, not the American taxpayer,” said Pagel. “Congress needs to reform the 1872 Mining Law to make sure mining companies pay their fair share.”
1872 Mining Law reform, long stalled in Congress, made national news recently when a Government Accountability Office report highlighted the billions in lost revenue due to this antiquated law.