Abandoned Mine Lands Threaten the Safety of American Communities


By: Beverly Kwakye Oct. 25, 2015

Abandoned mine lands are hurting the safety of Americans’ water and land supplies, a group of experts told a House panel today as they pleaded for sufficient regulations to be set in place in order to expedite mine cleanup initiatives.

“Runoff from the mines, containing harmful radioactive waste, is harmful for years to come,” said Policy Director, Lauren Pagel.

“This pollution harms Western waters and the communities that rely on them,” urged Pagel, referring to the long-term effects of abandoned hardrock mines and the danger they pose to nearby communities.

This hearing was hosted by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in Washington, D.C., today to address the damaging effects abandoned mines leave on water and land supplies and to suggest reform to past environmental legislation as a possible solution to protect the safety of communities.

Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, was the first to testify before a House subcommittee today, stating that many abandoned mines threaten Americans’ land and water supply causing high-risk pollution.

According to the EPA, rain washes topsoil fueled by mining into streams. These sediments pollute waterways and can disfigure river channels and streams, which leads to flooding.

Stanislaus along with several experts, testified by proposing sufficient funding so Good Samaritan entities could move forth with abandoned mine cleanup and not risk liability for complete cleanups.

In the context of environmental safety, Good Samaritans serve as individuals who have no history or relations at an abandoned mine but do seek to improve the safety, cleanup, and lessen the pollution on an existing abandoned mine.

Experts led a discussion claiming that the Clean Water Act is a primary impediment to Good Samaritans and other mine cleanup organizations taking further action against damages caused by abandoned mines.

Under the Clean Water Act, If Good Samaritans act by taking part in cleanup solutions, this runs the risk of them being labeled as the operator, therefore such legislation should condemn that by rather enforcing cleanup, according to Hecla Mining Company Vice President of External Affairs, Luke Russell.

Russell explained the need to set forth legislation so the Clean Water Act will no be an obstacle against Good Samaritans and other abandoned mine cleanup groups acting upon mine pollution.

Good Samaritans are doing an adequate job in cleaning up abandoned mine lands, however, the Clean Water Act liability terms get in the way, Keystone Policy Center Senior Policy Director, Doug Young inferred.

Trout Unlimited President, Chris Wood, suggested three major reform initiatives Congress could take in lessening the effects of abandoned mines. “A dedicated funding source is needed in cleaning up abandoned hardrock mines,” said Woods. Wood also suggested that organizations need protection against liability in cleaning up mines, therefore Congress must work together in creating a strong bipartisan bill.

If the 1872 Mining Law were reformed years ago, then Colorado would have been able to clean up old mines years before they became damaging, according to Pagel.

Pagel explains there have been several measures the Environmental Protection Agency has taken to expand the efforts of Good Samaritans. According to Pagel, the EPA has a process that enables qualified projects to receive a Good Samaritan permit. Organizations such as Earth Works have supported legislative proposals in regards to reforming exemptions to the Clean Water Act Liability.

However, Good Samaritans and supporting organizations cannot entirely solve the growing number of abandoned mines and their long-term effects alone, Pagel advised.

The experts agreed that further action is limited if there is no proper funding available to back up the goals of Good Samaritans.

In a powerful statement, Pagel concluded with the following words: “Good Samaritans can do nothing to help tackle these larger problem sites that must be done by skilled reclamation professionals with monies from a dedicated cleanup fund.”







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