Legislation necessary to remove liability hurdles preventing organizations and state agencies from cleaning up draining abandoned mines
ARLINGTON, Va.— Last week, a coalition of 59 fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation businesses urged Congress to pass the bipartisan Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act (S. 3571), legislation sponsored by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and James Risch (R-ID). The bill has 14 cosponsors – seven Republicans and seven Democrats – and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
The legislation would establish a new pilot program under the Environmental Protection Agency to provide limited liability protections for state agencies and qualified volunteer parties to clean up abandoned hardrock mines, an estimated 22,500 of which pose environmental hazards. The bill has 14 cosponsors—seven Republicans and seven Democrats—and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The fly fishing industry is built on clean water and we need all the help we can get to tackle this enormous problem,” said Whitney Tilt, Executive Director of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) Fisheries Fund, the conservation and stewardship arm of the organization that promotes the business interests of more than 1,000 members. The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act needs to become law or abandoned mines that otherwise could be cleaned up will continue discharging their toxic brew into our rivers and streams. Volunteers stand ready to clean up these sites. All they need is Congress to act for clean water.”
The group’s letter noted that, “Everything from commercial river recreation to rafting, kayaking, to wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing and more, depends on the cold, clean waters that course through our streams and rivers and fill our wetlands and lakes. Unfortunately, many miles of those waterways are impaired by pollution from abandoned mines.”
“Abandoned mines are one of the country’s most pressing, yet unaddressed water quality problems. These sites pollute watersheds across the country, affecting everything from tiny headwater streams in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, to famous fishing destinations like the Arakansas River in Colorado. Abandoned mines are a big problem, but with a little help from Congress, it’s a problem we can start to fix,” said Jim Bartschi, President of Scott Fly Rods based in Montrose, CO.
An analysis by Trout Unlimited found that 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.
“Good Samaritan legislation is desperately needed to help address the negative impacts of poor water quality emanating from legacy mining sites throughout the West. Outdoor recreation businesses like ours rely on healthy public lands and clean rivers to sustain not only the outdoor recreation economy, but also our way of life,” said Mark Deming, Chief Marketing Officer for Northwest River Supply (NRS), an employee-owned company based in Idaho that is the world’s leading manufacturer of paddlesports gear and apparel. “With tens of thousands of abandoned mine sites polluting the environment, we need every arrow in the quiver to tackle this massive problem, including Good Samaritan. We urge members of Congress to hold a hearing on the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act and move swiftly to pass the bill into law.”
Federal laws treat volunteers who want to clean up abandoned mines—including state agencies and private non-profits groups—as if they are the very polluters who created the mine waste. This creates daunting obstacles that prevent abandoned mine cleanups, including complicated permitting and long-term legal and financial liability for any remaining mine pollution. The letter urges members of Congress “to double down on efforts to pass this vital legislation in the 117th Congress.”
“A legal catch-22 has hamstrung abandoned mine cleanups for too long. Fortunately, there’s a bipartisan, commonsense solution before Congress to fix this conundrum,” said Diane Bristol, Vice President of Community & Culture for Simms Fishing Products, a manufacturer of fishing gear with over 170 employees in Bozeman, MT. “At Simms we believe that we must work collectively to protect our waters and fisheries for future generations. Good Samaritan partnerships embody our conservation philosophy, and we fully support this legislation. We are optimistic that Congress will act so we can work together to clean up abandoned mines.”
In addition to winning the backing of outdoor businesses, S.3571 has been endorsed by Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Property and Environment Research Center, National Deer Association, National Wildlife Federation, National Mining Association, American Exploration and Mining Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Izaak Walton League of America, and the Outdoor Alliance.
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.