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Tester/Schweitzer-promoted program could create thousands of jobs while restoring clean water, fish and wildlife, and eliminating public safety threats

Jan 30th — The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a broad package of economic recovery proposals for the Nation this week, including $650 million to restore our National Forests damaged by abandoned mines. This would create 15 to 42 thousand jobs to reduce water pollution, eliminate public safety threats, and restore fish and wildlife habitat in rural communities across the country and here in Montana.

“We applaud the efforts of Senator Tester and Governor Schweitzer to promote new economic opportunities in Montana's rural areas,” declared Bonnie Gestring from the EARTHWORKS Northern Rockies office. “Old mines like the Beal Mountain project and other sites along the Clark Fork and Big Blackfoot River may finally get cleaned up.”

Over a century of mining in Montana and other western states left a legacy of abandoned non-coal mines, including over 6000 mines in Montana. These old mines are a hazard for public safety and generate air and water pollution that affects fish, wildlife and downstream communities. The Environmental Protection Agency found that these abandoned mines affect 40% of the headwaters of the streams and rivers in the West.

A nationwide program to clean up abandoned coal mines was created by the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act with a fee charged for every ton of coal produced. There is no similar program to finance the restoration of abandoned non-coal mines, found primarily in the mid-West and in western States.

“Funding for cleaning up abandoned mines will benefit many recreational fisheries in Montana,” says Bruce Farling of Montana Trout Unlimited. “Angling annually generates $300 million to our economy, and when we eliminate mining pollution we directly protect and enhance this important economic driver.”

The Economic Recovery bill will be considered in the U.S. Senate in the coming week. Then the provision to restore abandoned mines on the forests will be considered in the House and Senate compromise to become law.

Abandoned mine restoration is expected to exceed $33 billion in the West. The actions taken in the Senate are a critical step forward to protect communities and the environment while creating jobs in rural areas. In time, a more permanent solution will be needed, like creation of an abandoned mine fund for non-coal mines, which will be considered in the coming year in the House and the Senate as part of the reform of the 1872 Mining Law.

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