A pilot program allowing “good Samaritans” to conduct cleanup of old hardrock mines could be established if fresh legislation by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner becomes law.

The Good Samaritan Remediation of Orphan Hardrock Mines Act of 2018 will authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to establish such a pilot program.

The legislators said in a joint news release that abandoned mines are environmental hazards and also present danger to unaware people recreating on federal land all across the United States, especially the western part of the country.

Good Samaritan groups willing to clean up some of these sites are a necessity, but, according to Tipton and Gardner, the assumption of long-term liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (CWA) has hindered prior cleanup of these sites.

Tipton and Gardner’s legislation creates a pilot program that will allow qualifying Good Samaritans to clean up the sites without the assumption of long-term liability.

“The Gold King Mine spill was a reminder felt across the Third Congressional District and State of Colorado that when it comes to cleaning up abandoned mine sites, the status quo is unacceptable,” Tipton said in the Thursday news release, referring to the disastrous spill of old mining wastewater into the Animas River a few years back, which afflicted communities from Durango to Farmington, New Mexico.

“There are many Good Samaritan groups that have the technical expertise, financial ability and desire to conduct successful remediation at abandoned mines, but they are discouraged from taking on projects due to current regulations,” he added.

“The Good Samaritan Remediation of Orphan Hardrock Mines Act of 2018 will set up a pilot project to allow Good Samaritans to clean up abandoned mine sites, improving water quality and providing our communities with a valuable service, all while maintaining strong permitting and environmental controls.”

Gardner said he’s been working on legislation to assist good Samaritan cleanup of orphan mines for years.

“Across Colorado and the West we have needed a permanent solution to the dangerous problem of abandoned mines. The opportunity to clean up the environment around these sites is crucial and this pilot program with finally allow for the long overdue process to begin,” he said.

“I understand changes may be necessary to get this bill across the finish line, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to evaluate their feedback.”

Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, hailed the move.

“I want to thank Sen. Gardner and Congressman Tipton for their leadership. Abandoned mines represent the single greatest and least addressed threat to our nation’s waters. We look forward to working with anyone who wants to make our waters cleaner and our lands healthier and build strong, bipartisan support to pass Good Samaritan legislation,” he said, in a provided statement.

“Today’s thorough federal and state regulations require that land reclamation and restoration be a key component of every mining project — but that wasn’t always the case. As a result, legacy mine sites have remained abandoned for decades or centuries,” said Hal Quinn, NMA’s president and CEO, also in a provided statement.

“While our industry, environmental groups and others have the expertise and desire to rehabilitate these lands, current laws are preventing environmental progress. Senator Gardner and Congressman Tipton’s legislation would change that. These bills are vital to clearing the obstacles that are impeding remediation efforts at abandoned legacy mine sites that continue to impact land and water resources.

“Good Samaritans should be supported in their efforts to clean up these sites without fear of incurring additional legal liability. This is commonsense legislation that Congress has discussed for years. Now is the time for action.”

AEMA’s executive director Laura Skaer also applauded the move as one proving the mining industry and others liability protection that allows them to act as good Samaritans to address pre-regulation abandoned mines.

“Our members are hopeful that their congressional colleagues will join them in supporting this pragmatic approach,” she said.

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