Gardner Urges EPW Committee to Pass Good Samaritan Legislation
Washington, DC – Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) today spoke at a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing in support of the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act. If enacted, this legislation allows 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. More information on Gardner’s discussion draft can be found here.
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Boxer, and other members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for holding this legislative hearing on economic opportunities from land cleanup programs, and including the discussion draft of the Good Samaritan Cleanup of Orphan Mines Act of 2016.
“Senator Bennet and I have been working on this draft the last several months, along with Representative Scott Tipton from Colorado’s Third Congressional District, the location of many abandoned hardrock mines with acid mine drainage.
“We have also received significant stakeholder feedback, including from the Colorado Governor and Attorney General’s office. Our goal is to ensure we introduce a bill that works on the ground for our state and constituents, and betters the environment.
“Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to make a statement about the importance of this legislation and the need to get Good Samaritan legislation passed through this Committee and enacted into law.
“Last fall, the Committee held an oversight hearing to examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s spill that took place at the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado.
“A bipartisan group of colleagues and I testified on the impact the spill had on our constituencies.
“We are still feeling the spill’s effects including lost property, lost economic opportunity, lost business opportunity, and are monitoring EPA’s reimbursement process.
“Today, I come before the Committee to advocate the need to move forward with legislation that would allow Good Samaritans – like the mining industry, state agencies, local governments, nonprofits, and other groups – the ability to clean up the environment and improve water quality conditions in and around abandoned mines.
“The Government Accountability Office estimates that more than 160,000 abandoned hardrock mines exist across the United States and at least 33,000 of them pose environmental or safety concerns.
“One of the immediate actions we can do in Congress to address abandoned mines is to pass Good Samaritan legislation. It’s a concept that has been around for decades with nearly every stakeholder over time advocating and remaining true to their opinions on the concept.
“I respect all stakeholder positions, but it’s time to take a small step towards facilitating cleanup, to prove that this idea works, and when the legislation sunsets in 10 years – I fully support a comprehensive review of what concepts worked and what could be done better regarding Good Samaritan cleanup.
“If we can move this forward now, we will have the knowledge and facts necessary to make a Good Samaritan program even stronger in the future.
“The Gold King Mine spill, as terrible as it was, helped shine a light on the need for remediation of abandoned hardrock mines.
“As the situation currently stands regarding cleanup of abandoned mines, there are not enough federal or state resources to properly remediate these mines.
“During the Gold King Mine remediation, the federal government also demonstrated a lack of expertise in the remediation process.
“Further, while EPA has guidance on the remediation of mines by Good Samaritans, this guidance has done little to incentivize Good Samaritans to enter these sites and begin cleanup.
“There are willing and able Good Samaritans that wish to address safety concerns and improve water quality at abandoned mines, as you will hear from Trout Unlimited, but the fear of incurring liability for meeting all federal standards during cleanup is too great and these sites continue polluting the environment and our waters.
“There has been broad bipartisan support for passing Good Samaritan legislation in the past.
“Mr. Chairman, under your leadership, the Committee in 2006 reported out a bipartisan bill from Colorado Senators Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard.
“Ten years later, my Democratic colleague Senator Bennet and I are advocating for the Good Samaritan concept.
“The time has come for Congress to move forward with this legislation, to get this done for Colorado, and any other state or Tribe that wishes to participate in a Good Samaritan program.
“We must improve the environmental and safety issues related to these abandoned mines.
“The draft legislation before the Committee is designed to allow Good Samaritans the opportunity to apply for a permit under a State or Indian tribe program or EPA’s program to assist in the environmental cleanup of abandoned mines.
“The State or Indian Tribe or EPA acts as the permitting agency that approves or denies a Good Samaritan’s permit, and monitors the cleanup for the duration of the permit.
“The approved permit allows the Good Samaritan to improve the environment and water quality while receiving limited liability relief from only those provisions necessary under the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980.
“A criticism of past bills was that liability relief was too broad, so we have tailored this bill to only include those provisions that we believe necessary to facilitate cleanup.
“This draft holds Good Samaritans liable if they fail to comply with the terms of the Act, but provides an exception if the failure results in only minor impacts.
“The draft includes that any action done by the Good Samaritan must improve the environment and water quality standards to the maximum extent practicable under the circumstances.
“Of final note, the draft sunsets in ten years, which provides Congress the opportunity to reevaluate if the Act has facilitated the cleanup of abandoned mines, the main goal of the bill – which is a cleaner environment and improved water quality conditions.
“Mr. Chairman, I have a letter from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper expressing support for the bipartisan effort we have undertaken in the Colorado Delegation. I respectfully request that the letter be included as part of my testimony for today’s hearing.
“I also request that Colorado Senate Joint Memorial 16 be included as part of my testimony. The Memorial urges United States Congress to pass Good Samaritan legislation.
“Thank you again for the opportunity to testify and I look forward to hearing the issues raised, and how we can improve the draft legislation prior to bill introduction.”
Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.
354 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
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