From The Durango Herald (Aedan Hannon):
The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act introduced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday would allow “Good Samaritan” groups to assist in the cleanup of abandoned mines by limiting their legal and financial liability for mine pollution. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., co-sponsored the bill, which would drastically expand the capacity for communities to address toxic mine waste from hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines in the U.S…
The bill establishes a pilot program of 15 sites in which Good Samaritans – anyone from state mine reclamation agencies to local conservation groups – receive permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to carry out cleanups at abandoned mine sites.
The legislation has a seven-year sunset and is meant to test a more constructive approach to limiting the pollution from the hundreds of thousands of mines that don’t qualify for the EPA’s Superfund status.
For years, conservation groups and local governments have argued that the Clean Water Act, though critical for protecting water, limits their involvement in mine cleanups.
The Clean Water Act characterizes the pollution from abandoned mines in two different ways. One is “nonpoint source,” which means there is no single identifiable source actively emitting pollution. Solid waste rock at an abandoned mine would qualify as a nonpoint source because it releases toxic materials only when rain and snow wear down the rock.
Nonprofits and other Good Samaritans have been able to clean up nonpoint source abandoned mine pollution since at least 2007 after the EPA issued a policy that protected these groups from any liability for the pollution.
The Clean Water Act also identifies “point source” pollution, which is actively emitted by a single source such as a pipe. Under the Clean Water Act, any entity that wants to clean up the infrastructure of an abandoned mine that discharges pollution, such as a tunnel, must assume liability for that pollution permanently.
To comply with the Clean Water Act, these entities would have to undertake costly efforts to ensure that any water released by the mines during their work meets stringent standards.
This issue of liability prevented state agencies, local governments and conservation organizations from cleaning up tens of thousands of abandoned mine sites that spew toxic chemicals.