Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan bill that would help address the chronic problem of pollution leaking from abandoned hardrock mines was introduced today in the U.S. Senate. Lead bill sponsors Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator James Risch (R-ID) were joined by Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and John Barrasso (R-WY).
“Abandoned mines represent the least addressed and greatest threat to water quality in the nation,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “There is no constituency for abandoned mines and orange water, and we’re excited for Congress to take bipartisan action that will allow organizations such as TU to help protect our communities and clean our rivers and streams. We thank Senators Risch and Heinrich for their years of attention to this pervasive problem.”
The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2022 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. More than 110,000 miles of streams are listed as impaired for heavy metals and/or acidity, and abandoned mines are a major source of these impairments due to acid-mine drainage with toxic metals, such as mercury, lead and arsenic.
Trout Unlimited praised the senators’ joint effort to address this chronic problem through Good Samaritan legislation.
“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. “We thank Senators Heinrich and Risch for their efforts to help solve this vexing problem and look forward to working with members of Congress and interested stakeholders to refine the bill and finally pass Good Samaritan legislation into law.”
Under current law, Good Samaritan parties can and do voluntarily undertake projects to clean up “non-point-source” abandoned mine pollution, such as moving contaminated waste rock piles away from streams. However, under the Clean Water Act, groups wanting to take on “point-source” mine cleanups—where toxic drainage is discharging directly from the mine opening —face daunting obstacles, including complicated permitting and long-term legal and financial liability 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 where current law allows, 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. Additionally, Superfund is not well-suited to address the tens of thousands of isolated, smaller mines that would not likely qualify as Superfund sites.
“We have more abandoned mine messes than hands to clean them up,” said Corey Fisher, Public Land Policy Director for Trout Unlimited’s Angler Conservation Program. “We need the help of Good Samaritans like Trout Unlimited, state mine remediation agencies and watershed groups – who are experts in mine restoration – to help clean up these toxic messes and restore clean water for important drinking water sources, recreation, and fish and wildlife. Many hands make light work and there’s a lot of work to be done that will not only create clean water, but also jobs in local communities.”
About Trout Unlimited:
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities.