01.19.16

Gardner, Bennet, Tipton Release Discussion Draft to Facilitate Good Samaritan Orphan Mine Cleanup

Washington – Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Representative Scott Tipton (CO-03) today released a draft of the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act, legislation designed to allow Good Samaritans, such as the mining industry, state agencies, local governments, nonprofits, and other groups, the opportunity to clean up the environment and improve water quality in and around orphan mines. The Colorado Members look forward to working with the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to move this discussion draft forward and reach consensus on a bipartisan Good Samaritan bill.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in 2008 more than 160,000 estimated abandoned hardrock mines existed across the United States, and at least 33,000 of them pose environmental or safety concerns. These orphan mine sites continuously pollute waters and land, and many sites do not have past or current responsible owners. However, there are Good Samaritans with no connection to orphan mine sites that want to offer assistance in cleanup efforts, but are unwilling to enter these sites without liability protections from certain liability issues. States and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not have adequate funds to cleanup orphan mine sites on their own, and current environmental laws deter Good Samaritans from entering the sites for cleanup. 

The Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act is designed to allow Good Samaritans the opportunity to apply for a permit under a State or Indian tribe’s program or from the EPA to assist in the environmental cleanup of orphan mines across the United States. This legislation is narrowly tailored to exempt Good Samaritan cleanup efforts from liability at orphan mines only from those provisions necessary under the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980. At the same time, the bill holds Good Samaritans liable under all laws if they fail to comply with the terms of their permit, but provides an exception if the failure results in only minor impacts. Lastly, the legislation expires in 10 years, which provides Congress the opportunity to determine if the Good Samaritan program contributed to the cleanup of orphan mines resulting in a cleaner environment and improved water quality conditions.  

“The aftermath of the Gold King Mine spill shed light on the need for remediation of orphan mines in Colorado and across the West. While there are willing and able Good Samaritans who wish to address safety and environmental concerns and improve water quality at orphan mines, the EPA has done little to incentivize them and the fear of liability for meeting all federal standards during cleanup is too great," said Gardner. “The Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act would ultimately lead to an improved environment. Similar legislative efforts have received broad bipartisan support in the past, and I’m hopeful that we can continue our work together to reduce the risks associated with a spill similar to the Gold King Mine disaster and protect our treasured lands and water in Colorado. I look forward to full consideration of the Good Samaritan concept as we move through the legislative process.”

“The Gold King Mine spill was a sharp reminder of the imperative to clean up the thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado and throughout the West,” Bennet said. “Part of that solution is to craft a Good Samaritan policy with the help of the state, local communities and their partners. This discussion draft is the result of those ongoing conversations and will allow us to gather additional feedback to ensure we introduce a bill that offers proper protections for these groups and helps pave a path to cleaning up these mines.”

“It’s no secret that more needs to be done to clean up the contamination in abandoned mines that is leaking into our streams and rivers. This problem exceeds the EPA’s capabilities and know-how—the Gold King mine blowout is proof enough of that. However, by incentivizing cleanup at the local level through Good Samaritan groups that possess the technical knowledge and expertise desperately needed to get the job done, we can make significant strides toward protecting our environment from continued contamination,” said Tipton. “Our discussion draft legislation, the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act, seeks to remove regulatory hurdles that currently discourage and prevent these groups from cleaning up contamination in abandoned mines, empowering them to take action. I look forward to hearing community feedback on this draft, and continuing to work with my Colorado colleagues to ensure that this challenge is met with the most effective solution possible.”

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