#AnimasRiver: After Gold King Spill, Focus Turns to Good Samaritan Legislation — Colorado Public Radio

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

“Blowout scenarios — they are impressive, they get a lot of attention, they are probably not the biggest issue,” said Peter Butler, co-chair of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “The biggest issue is more the continuous metal loading that comes from the mining sites.”

Take the site of the Gold King Mine spill. Construction crews have now finished a $1.5 million temporary wastewater treatment plant for the Gold King Mine. EPA on-scene coordinator Steven Way explains that 500 to 600 gallons of orange water has continued to gush out of the mine since last August…

Experts say the slow discharge of tainted waste is gradually polluting waterways. Across the West, a 2011 GAO report estimates about 33,000 abandoned hardrock mines are causing environmental problems. Colorado has identified 230 abandoned mines draining waste into waterways. Money is one hurdle. Legal accountability is another.

Liability Blamed For Deterring Cleanup

Right now a primary deterrent to voluntary cleanup efforts involve the ongoing liability that groups would have if they attempt clean up under the Clean Water Act.

The Colorado-based Keystone Policy Center has worked on ways to solve this problem. Policy Director Doug Young says one solution could come from Good Samaritan legislation, which seeks to amend the Clean Water Act to allow environmental groups and local governments to be involved with more clean-up efforts.

“Because we really don’t have the resources federally, privately, to do it,” said Young. “I don’t know where else we’re going to find the resources to address the problem.”[…]

But the Gold King spill has shifted the focus onto abandoned mines and Good Samaritan Legislation. Some in Congress — including Democratic and Republican Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet — have said they’ll sponsor a bill this session. Intense debate of the topic is expected during an Oct. 21 hearing.

But the fact remains that lawmakers have tried and failed over the past two decades to pass a bill. Former Democratic Sen. Mark Udall unsuccessfully sponsored bills on the topic multiple times.

Those skeptical of the idea include California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, former chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. She raised concerns about potential legislation at a September hearing on the Gold King Mine spill.

“These so-called Good Samaritan waivers unless they are very carefully crafted are not the solution,” she said.

Boxer and others are concerned that companies won’t be held fully responsible for clean up. Other environmental groups prefer charging hard rock mining companies a federal reclamation fee — similar to what coal mining companies pay.

In the meantime, the clean-up pace of abandoned mines across Colorado continues to be slow. Over the past six years, the state has spent $2 million annually, averaging about three or four mine clean ups per year.

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