“Blaming the EPA for the Animas River mine waste disaster is like blaming the fire department for kicking down your door to put out your house fire. After you ignored the fire marshal’s warnings. And cut the fire department’s budget.
The real problem is the 500,000 abandoned and inactive hardrock mines littering our nation that may cost more than $50 billion to clean up, with no dedicated funding to pay for it. And we’re creating new, perpetually polluting mines every year. The result? 40% of the headwaters of western watersheds are polluted by mining.
Until hardrock miners pay a mine cleanup fee like coal miners have for decades, more and more mine waste time bombs like the Gold King mine are going to explode in our watersheds. Until we end hardrock miners’ special exemptions from environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, we’re going to keep creating more time bombs for future generations.
It’s long past time for hardrock mining to be governed like other land uses. That starts with reforming the 1872 Mining Law. We also need regulatory upgrades from the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect communities and water from the destructive impacts of hardrock mining.
Unfortunately, “Good Samaritan” liability waiver proposals are distracting lawmakers from addressing the root causes of the abandoned mine problem — reforming the laws that created them and funding their clean up. The EPA has created a legal process to help Good Samaritans clean up abandoned mines without incurring any liability – rendering legislation unnecessary. At best, waiving environmental laws like the Clean Water Act would do no harm. At worst, they will exacerbate the problem.