From CNN (Lauren Pagel):
If there is anything I have learned from the past 15 years of working on this issue, it’s that absent strong regulations and better-designed mines, mining companies will continue to pollute with impunity.
Earthworks estimates that there are over 500,000 abandoned and inactive hardrock mines strewn across the country, with a hefty price tag attached to their clean up — $50 billion, according to an EPA estimate.
Western communities face significant burdens associated with these old mines — ranging from a disaster from a failed cleanup like the one that occurred last week, to more persistent water pollution issues, and the ever-present danger of improperly secured underground mines that pose a serious threat to public safety. At least 40% of the streams feeding the headwaters of Western watersheds are polluted from mining. That’s because many mines — like Gold King — have significant acid mine drainage problems, which can persist for thousands of years if left untreated.
Unfortunately, in the 25 years since Earthworks first published our report on the legacy of abandoned mines, not much has changed. The reason for the lack of action is the antiquated law, 143 years old and counting, that still governs hardrock mining on public lands throughout the West.
President Ulysses S. Grant signed the 1872 Mining Law to help settle the West. And even though the West has surely been settled, this law is still on the books — unchanged. It allows corporations, foreign and domestic, to take public minerals, owned by us, the taxpayers, for free. It contains no environmental provisions, requires no cleanup after mining is over, and unlike the law governing coal mining, does not require hardrock mining companies to pay a fee to clean up the legacy of pollution.
This archaic law is why funds to clean up mines like Gold King remain limited, despite the magnitude of the problem, putting safe drinking water and our healthy environment at risk. A steady stream of long-term funding for hardrock mine cleanup, similar to the coal industry’s abandoned mine fee, is essential to dealing with the scope of the problems we face from mine pollution.