Trout Unlimited praises legislation to address abandoned mine cleanups

Bill would enable ‘Good Sam’ cleanups and tackle water quality issues across the West 

(Dec. 6, 2018) WASHINGTON D.C. – A bill that would help address the chronic problem of pollution leaking from abandoned mines across the West was introduced today in both the House and the Senate. 

“Abandoned mines represent the least addressed and greatest threat to water quality in the nation,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Abandoned mines affect fish, wildlife, drinking water supplies, and thousands of communities around the nation. Congressional action can help solve the problem.”  

The Good Samaritan Remediation of Orphan Hardrock Mines Act of 2018 would help address an estimated 500,000 abandoned mines (mines with no one responsible for clean-up) in the American West, 33,000 of which are known to be causing environmental damage. These mines have polluted more than 110,000 miles of stream with acid-mine drainage and metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic. 

Trout Unlimited praised the renewed effort by Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and Representative Scott Tipton to address this chronic problem through Good Samaritan legislation.   

“We have more abandoned mine messes than hands to clean them up right now,” said Corey Fisher, senior policy director for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen Conservation Project. “We need the help of Good Samaritans like Trout Unlimited and watershed groups who are experts in river restoration to help clean up these toxic messes and restore clean water for important drinking water resources and fish and wildlife. Right now, the law says that if you touch the mess you own it forever and that’s often too much liability for a non-profit organization.” 

Under current law, Good Sam parties can and do voluntarily undertake projects to clean up “non-point-source” abandoned mines, such as moving contaminated tailings piles away from streams. However, under the Clean Water Act, groups wanting to take on “point-source” mine cleanups—where toxic drainage is leaking directly from the mine opening or adit—face daunting obstacles, including complicated permitting and legal liability in perpetuity for any remaining mine pollution.  

The Good Samaritan cleanup bill would establish a pilot program for a permitting process administered by the EPA that would enable qualified nonprofit groups and other third parties to tackle cleanups of abandoned mine sites, in part by providing targeted, limited liability protection for so-called “Good Samaritan” groups who undertake projects designed to clean up water pollution from leaking mines. State and federal governments have spent billions cleaning up leaking abandoned mines, but there is much more work to do. Good Samaritan legislation would help get a handle on the problem by providing an alternative to relying solely on federal Superfund cleanups, which suffer from a lack of funding and capacity.    

“The objective of the Clean Water Act is to restore and maintain the integrity of our Nation’s waters; Good Samaritan legislation will move us closer to that objective,” said Steve Moyer, vice president of government affairs at TU. “This bill is a great first step and we thank Senator Gardner and Representative Tipton for their efforts to help solve this vexing problem. We look forward to working with members of Congress and interested stakeholders to refine the bill and build strong, bipartisan support to pass Good Samaritan legislation.” 

For more information visit Standup.tu.org.

Trout Unlimited and its 300,000 members and supporters are dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram and follow our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation.