S.B. 1777: Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2009

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

“What my proposal has this time is the advantage of simplicity,” Udall said during a Wednesday press call. The bill would deal only with water pollution, unlike past measures that included waivers to other environmental laws, he said…

The measure would amend the Clean Water Act and create a permitting program for groups that can produce a cleanup plan.

Any mine owners responsible for polluting sites would not be eligible to apply for a permit. Nor would sites currently involved in Superfund cleanup be eligible.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding). From the article:

This will be the 11th piece of Good Samaritan legislation introduced in Congress in the last 15 years. Despite the support of many of those living near the mines, cleanup groups, as well as the Western Governors’ Association, all previous bills have been defeated. The most vocal opponents of the legislation have often been major environmental groups, who worry that such bills weaken environmental legislation…

The Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2009 would introduce a “Good Samaritan permit” for those cleaning up abandoned mines they had no part in creating. The Good Samaritan permit would protect such groups from Clean Water Act liability.

“This is an elegant and common sense solution to one of the biggest obstacles Good Samaritans face when they want to get these abandoned mines cleaned up,” Udall said. “There are several groups in Colorado who care about their communities and want to protect them and who are ready to go as soon as we have legislation to help them get started. I’m dying to turn them loose so they can get to work.”

To apply for the permit, applicants would submit a clean-up plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If their application is approved, Good Samaritans could then clean up waterways without incurring liability under the Clean Water Act.

More coverage from the Cortez Journal (Joe Hanel):

Colorado has 23,000 abandoned mines – far more than the state government can afford to clean up. But private organizations like the Animas River Stakeholders Group can do little to help, because under the current law, they would take all legal liability for the abandoned mine. “Any time you get your hands wet, you’ve triggered the Clean Water Act and Clean Water Act liability issues,” said Udall, D-Colo. His solution is Senate Bill 1777, which he introduced Tuesday. It would shield “Good Samaritans” from lawsuits under the Clean Water Act…

Elizabeth Russell of Trout Unlimited agreed. Her group reluctantly supported earlier Good Samaritan bills, but it is firmly behind Udall’s latest bill. “It would make a big, big difference in our state,” said Russell, manager for Trout Unlimited’s abandoned mine project in Colorado…

Groups in Durango, Leadville and Keystone have been blocked from cleaning up mines because of their fear of legal liability, Udall said. “I have a great deal of trust in these citizens who have seen the damage done to water quality and fisheries,” Udall said. “I’m dying to turn these groups lose.”

S. 1777 has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

More good samaritan coverage here.

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