#GlenwoodSprings is spending $1.2M in tax money on a public affairs campaign to fight a mine above town — The #Colorado Sun

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The city is assembling a war chest to ward off an “existential crisis” stemming from a politically connected company, Rocky Mountain Resources, that wants to expand a limestone mine just above Glenwood Springs’ famous hot springs

“I don’t think citizens have a problem with us spending their money on health and safety issues for things that are a threat to our town. And this proposal, this is 100% a threat to our town. It’s a threat to everything we are,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said about the city’s new publicly funded advertising and media campaign to block a politically connected mine owner from exponentially expanding an open-pit limestone quarry just above the city’s hot springs.

The historic resort city has directed $250,000 toward the fight to stop the expansion of the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry and put another $1 million in a reserve war chest. And Glenwood Springs leaders have gathered unprecedented support for its first public affairs campaign targeting a business, with council members, trustees and commissioners from every municipality in Pitkin and Garfield counties unanimously backing the fight to block the mine expansion.

The resolutions the city has gathered in recent months come from the Pitkin County commissioners as well as trustees and council members from Rifle, Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt, Aspen and Snowmass Village. Every community vote was unanimous…

Garfield County’s commissioners have not formally issued a resolution opposing the mine, but the board is defending lawsuits filed in both state and federal court by the mine’s owner, Rocky Mountain Resources, which argues the county’s enforcement of the mine’s county permit conflicts with state and federal permitting. The resolutions passed by Glenwood Springs’ neighbors demand that RMR comply with those local regulations.

“It’s really cool and it’s really wonderful that these other municipalities are coming to help us,” said Steve Beckley, the owner of the Iron Mountain Hot Springs and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which is adjacent to the proposed expansion of the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry. “When a mine owner sues a county and says you don’t have jurisdiction over us even though we are in your backyard, I hope that everybody in this state stands up and takes notice. This could be a precedent that impacts everywhere in Colorado.”

RMR, which has owned the Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry since 2016, wants to expand its federal permit with the Bureau of Land Management from 15.7 acres to 447 acres, with mining of chemical-grade limestone and dolomite on 320 acres within that boundary.

The proposal calls for RMR to increase its now-seasonal operations, which are prohibited from Dec. 15 to Apr. 15 and produce up to 60,000 tons of limestone products a year, to a 20-year, year-round operation that would produce 5 million tons of limestone products a year. The proposal seeks BLM permission to use as many as 30 semi-trucks, each making 15 to 20 daily round-trips from the mill down the unpaved Transfer Trail road to a riverside railyard.

The BLM is pursuing an intensive Environmental Impact Statement review of the Mid-Continent expansion plan, but the likely years-long process is just beginning and public comment is months away.

But the communities around the mine are preparing residents for that comment period, hoping the public campaign can sway the BLM to reject the proposal.

In addition to concerns over visibility, truck traffic and potential disruption of the flow of geothermal water that feeds the town’s hot springs, opponents of the mine fret that RMR’s owner, Chad Brownstein, has deep political connections that could greenlight the expansion despite opposition.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt once lobbied on behalf of oil and gas clients for Brownstein’s father’s influential Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

The ultimate decision for the mine expansion will fall to Bernhardt, who is under investigation for influencing policy that benefited California’s Westlands Water District, which was his largest client as a lobbyist.

“Are we worried about the failure of the BLM to listen to the concerns of the community and follow the law? Yes we are and we should be. Some of the lawyers and lobbyists at the Brownstein firm working on this plan are former BLM officials. The revolving door is spinning wildly on this one,” said Matt Ward, an environmental lawyer whose Washington, D.C.-based Sustainable Strategies DC is helping Glenwood Springs plan its campaign…

The proposed expansion of the Mid-Contintent Limestone Quarry above Glenwood Springs by the politically connected Rocky Mountain Resources has spurred the city to create a taxpayer funded campaign against the plan. The mine’s existing footprint of roughly 16 acres is in yellow and the proposed expansion is in red. Photo credit: City of Glenwood Springs via The Colorado Sun

In April, Garfield County’s commissioners held a public hearing and found RMR was not in compliance with the county’s special-use permit last amended in 2010, citing five issues:

* The mine’s federal, state and county permits authorized chemical-grade limestone dust, but RMR was supplying road base and construction materials.

* The quarry operated between Dec. 15 and April 15, when operations are not permitted.

* The mine’s operators expanded to almost 21 acres but the county permit allows operations on only about 16 acres.

* The mine’s exploratory drilling, allowed under a BLM permit, was not authorized by the county permit.

* Mine traffic on Transfer Trail was violating conditions of the county permit.

The commissioners gave RMR until June 1 to correct the permit violations. (The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has approved the operation’s boundary of 38 acres and in 2017 reported the mine was in compliance with its rules.)

In May, less than two weeks before the county’s deadline, Rocky Mountain Resources sued Garfield County commissioners, arguing the county does not have the authority to enforce the permit.

The lawsuits urged both courts to stop the county’s permit enforcement, saying the county’s Notice of Violation conflicted with not just federal and state permits, but the General Mining Act of 1872. The fight hinges on that 147-year-old legislation. RMR says it is mining “locatable minerals,” which federal law dating to 1872 encourages with lesser regulation, smaller taxes and easier access to public lands. But RMR’s Mid-Continent mine has historically produced minerals the legislation describes as “common,” like basic limestone and aggregate, which requires stricter regulation and bigger severance tax payments to the federal government and local communities.

Grand Junction U.S. District Court Judge Gordon P. Gallagher in late September suspended the federal lawsuit while the state court mulled the case…

The lawsuit is now winding through state court.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety last month contacted RMR asking about the Garfield County Special Use Permit and what the company was doing to resolve “potential noncompliance issues.”

Last week the company’s attorneys replied to the division, noting the lawsuits and saying the county “has not acknowledged preemption of state and federal law.” RMR’s attorney David McConaughy, with Garfield & Hecht, said Garfield County won’t act on its list of violations until the federal case is resolved and since the federal case has been stayed, the county’s Notice of Violation “will not be enforced and will have no impact on RMR’s operations for at least several months.”

McConaughy also said RMR is applying for a new special-use permit from Garfield County…

RMR also is asking the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Air Pollution Control Division for air quality permits allowing its Mid-Continent mine to expand its current air quality permit limit on limestone production to 800,000 tons a year from 400,000 tons.

The required Air Pollutant Emissions Notice applications detail air quality mitigation plans for blasting, crushing, screening and moving as much as 3.9 million tons of limestone products for 10 hours a day, 250 days a year. The air quality permit request documents mitigation efforts for 64 daily round-trips by 34-ton trucks on unpaved roads for 10 hours a day, 365 days a year. The request included a check for $573.39 for processing the notice applications.

50 truck trips an hour

The potential for as many as 600 truck trips up and down the unpaved Transfer Trail between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day of the year — that’s 50 trips an hour, according to the BLM application — ranks among the most troubling issues for residents of Glenwood Springs.

Equally troublesome is RMR’s more recent request for the BLM to allow drilling of five wells — between 125- and 250-feet deep — to study water quality and hydrology around the mine as part of a baseline to anchor the BLM’s environmental review of the proposed expansion. RMR is asking the BLM to exclude the monitoring wells from more intensive environmental review.

That proposal drew 250 comments that the BLM is reviewing, agency spokesman David Boyd said.

Glenwood Springs residents fear the wells could disrupt the delicate geothermal network that feeds the historic Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and the newer Iron Mountain Hot Springs, two of the city’s top tourist attractions…

Garfield County’s three commissioners want the BLM to include the drilling of the water-monitoring wells in a comprehensive environmental review to safeguard the hot springs, which they described in a letter to the BLM sent last month as “the lifeblood and economic engine” of the community…

More than 200 Roaring Fork Valley businesses have signed a petition protesting the planned expansion, Peterson said…

Mining for highly valuable, or “locatable” minerals is regulated less tightly and allows for smaller severance taxes paid to local communities. That part of the 1872 mining law was designed to encourage mining for valuable minerals on public land. RMR is arguing its mining of chemical-grade limestone for high-end concrete and dolomite falls under the 1872 legislation’s “locatable minerals” protections.

But opponents of the plan say the mine is producing common minerals, which require stricter regulation and heftier payments. Residents and city leaders have collected sales receipts showing the company is selling aggregate, or road base, for local projects, like Glenwood Springs’ new bridge spanning the Colorado River.

Mining industry water #pollution: “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer” — Amanda Goodin

From The Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding lakes and streams without being treated, The Associated Press has found.

That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines.

The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon (76-million-liter) daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks.

The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…

At many mines, the pollution has continued decades after their enlistment in the federal Superfund cleanup program for the nation’s most hazardous sites, which faces sharp cuts under President Donald Trump…

TAINTED WELLS

In mountains outside the Montana capital of Helena, about 30 households can’t drink their tap water because groundwater was polluted by about 150 abandoned gold, lead and copper mines that operated from the 1870s until 1953.

The community of Rimini was added to the Superfund list in 1999. Contaminated soil in residents’ yards was replaced, and the EPA has provided bottled water for a decade. But polluted water still pours from the mines and into Upper Tenmile Creek…

Estimates of the number of such abandoned mine sites range from 161,000 in 12 western states to as many as 500,000 nationwide. At least 33,000 have degraded the environment, according to the Government Accountability Office, and thousands more are discovered every year.

Officials have yet to complete work including basic risk analyses on about 80 percent of abandoned mining sites on federal lands. Most are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which under Trump is seeking to consolidate mine cleanups with another program and cut their combined 2019 spending from $35 million to $13 million.

PERPETUAL POLLUTION

Problems at some sites are intractable.

Among them:

— In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.

— At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.

— In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.

This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.

State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past, but critics say huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today’s mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups…

QUESTIONS OVER WHO SHOULD PAY

To date, the EPA has spent an estimated $4 billion on mining cleanups. Under Trump, the agency has identified a small number of Superfund sites for heightened attention after cleanup efforts stalled or dragged on for years. They include five mining sites examined by AP.

Former EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus said more money is needed to address mining pollution on a systematic basis, rather than jumping from one emergency response to another…

Democrats have sought unsuccessfully to create a special cleanup fund for old hardrock mine sites, with fees paid by the mining industry. Such a fund has been in place for coal mines since 1977, with more than $11 billion in fees collected and hundreds of sites reclaimed.

The mining industry has resisted doing the same for hardrock mines, and Republicans in Congress have blocked the Democratic proposals.

Montana Mining Association director Tammy Johnson acknowledged abandoned mines have left a legacy of pollution, but added that companies still in operation should not be forced to pay for those problems…

In 2017, the EPA proposed requiring companies still operating mines to post cleanup bonds or offer other financial assurances so taxpayers don’t end up footing cleanup bills. The Trump administration halted the rule, but environmental groups are scheduled to appear in federal court next month in a lawsuit that seeks to revive it.

“When something gets on a Superfund site, that doesn’t mean it instantly and magically gets cleaned up,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin. “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer.”

Congressional mining reform legislation update

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From the Associated Press via the San Jose Mercury News:

Among proposals to reform the 1872 Mining Law are plans to implement royalties on mining profits for the first time and reclamation fees for cleaning up abandoned mines. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had testified to a Senate committee in July 2009 that he wanted reform that protects mining, protects the environment and provides for the cleanup of such mines. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is shepherding the broadest plan, which calls for an adjusted 2 percent to 5 percent royalty after transportation and processing costs are taken out. It also gives the Interior Department more discretion on environmental matters and calls for the money raised under the bill to be used for reclaiming abandoned mine lands. The proposal has the support of a number of conservation groups, including the Washington D.C.-based Earthworks. Cathy Carlson, an adviser to Earthworks, said Bingaman told conservationists who recently met with him that he hoped to move the bill out of committee in April…

Republican Reps. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado, and Rob Bishop, of Utah, have introduced a good Samaritan bill that allows mining companies and nonprofit organizations to clean up old mines without liability for old environmental damage. Bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., also focus on abandoned mine provisions. Carlson said Udall’s bill, which reduces cleanup liability under the Clean Water Act, has “broad support.”[…]

Lamborn and Bishop’s proposal calls for a 2 percent net proceeds royalty on new mines on public land, an approach that leaders of the National Mining Association believe is a better fit with mining industry interests. Eklund-Brown said she emphasized in NBC interview yet to air that any royalty must be industry-specific and not compared with those paid by industries such as oil and gas.

More General Mining Act of 1872 coverage here, S.1777 coverage here, S.787 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.

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

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This video about Good Samaritan cleanups has been making the rounds in the blogosphere. Click through and watch it. It takes about 6 minutes.

More S. 1777 coverage here.

S. 796 Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009: U.S. Senator Bennet signs on as co-sponsor

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From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The Colorado Democrat said Thursday that he’s joining Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to reform rules covering the mining of gold, copper, uranium and other minerals. The bill would assess royalties on hard-rock mining on public land for the first time at rates of 2 percent to 5 percent. The proposal also would eliminate the ability to buy public land for mining for as little as $2.50 an acre. It would require reviewing whether some public land should be off-limits to development.

More S. 796 coverage here.

ASARCO parent Grupo Mexico ponies up $1.79 billion for mining cleanup

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From the Environmental News Service:

ASARCO LLC is a mining, smelting, and refining company based in Tucson, Arizona that mines and processes primarily copper. Parent corporation Grupo Mexico is providing the $1.79 billion to resolve the ASARCO’s environmental liabilities from operations that contaminated land, water and wildlife resources on federal, state, tribal and private land in 19 states. “Through this historic settlement, the American public is compensated for the damage and loss of natural resources resulting from ASARCO’s past mining, smelting and refining operations,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Were it not for this agreement, these injured resources would either remain impaired for future generations or require taxpayer expenditures to achieve environmental restoration.” The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at the more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states, said federal officials…

The contaminated Superfund sites are in Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

More superfund coverage here.

Uncompahgre River: ‘Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed’ December 11

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership will be hosting a daylong workshop titled “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” on Friday, Dec. 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center. Various representatives from state and local organizations will be attending the workshop, which will focus on reclamation activities and abandoned mine lands in the upper Uncompahgre watershed. The workshop’s organizer, Andrew Madison, who is an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer working in Ridgway to develop a mine reclamation strategy for abandoned mine lands in the watershed, said that while there has already been a lot of mine reclamation work completed in the area, the work has just begun…

The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership is a volunteer group seeking to involve citizens and organizations in the Uncompahgre watershed. Its mission is to protect and restore water quality in the Uncompahgre River through coordinated community and agency efforts. “I am really looking forward to the workshop,” Madison said. “I have had a great response so far and I am looking forward to getting people to talk to each other on these issues.” For more information about “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” contact Madison at 413/297-7232 or at ridgway.vista@gmail.com.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.