U.S. hardrock AML cleanup may require federal fees, Good Samaritan laws
A congressional subcommittee hearing on cleanup and securing of abandoned mined land sites on public lands
Mine Web | Dorothy Kosich
July 15, 2011
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RENO, NV -
Cleaning up U.S. abandoned mined lands necessitates "innovative solutions for restoring the environment, improving safety and creating jobs," said Northwest Mining Association Executive Director Laura Skaer during testimony Thursday before a House subcommittee.
Colorado's Director for the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Loretta Pineda told the House Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals Resources that the hardrock AML problem "is pervasive and significant."
"Estimating the costs of reclaiming hardrock abandoned mines is even more difficult than characterizing the number of mines," she noted."
Anu K. Mittal, director of the Natural Resources and Environmental Team at GAO, stressed "while it is critical to develop innovative approaches to cleanup abandoned mines, our work also demonstrates the importance of federal agencies having accurate information on the number of abandoned hardrock mines to know the extent of the problem and adequate financial assurances to prevent future abandoned hardrock mines requiring taxpayer money to cleanup."
Thomas Banker, chairman of the board of the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation, feels most abandoned mine lands program fail to take into account impacts on fish and aquatic species. "While we understand the primary focus of AML efforts to clean up and restore sites that pose threats to health and human safety, we would like to see a higher priority given to AML sites that are having significant impacts on fish and wildlife habitat," he emphasized.
Marcilynn Burke, deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management, told the subcommittee, "Just as the coal industry is held responsible for abandoned coal sites, the Administration proposes to hold the hardrock mining industry responsible for abandoned hardrock mines."
The Obama Administration wants an AML fee levei on all uranium and metallic mines on both public and private lands which will be charged on the volume of displaced material. The fee would be collected by the Office of Surface Mining, while the receipts would be distributed by the BLM.
Lauren Pagel, policy director of the environmental NGO Earthworks, advocated that a steady stream of AML funding to be provided via a royalty and a reclamation fee "should go hand in hand with a narrow Clean Water Act liability waiver for "Good Samaritan" cleanup of abandoned mines.
Pineda suggested that any hardrock AML inventory needs to have "well thought out goals and instructions; maintain standardized inventory procedures; keep inventory crews small to minimize inconsistencies in reporting methods; minimize influence on the inventory by those with vested interests in the results; require any federal agency inventory work to be coordinated with the states; utilize state-of-the-art GPS imagery; and be conducted with consideration and vegetation cover."
She also stressed that money to be invested in inventorying the nation's AML sites should not divert money and energy from on-the-ground reclamation work.
Both Skaer and Pineda stressed flexibility should be a crucial component contained in any "Good Samaritan" legislation considered by Congress for abandoned mined land cleanup.
"We are here today to ask Congress to do its part and enact Good Samaritan legislation that will remove the legal liability hurdles and provide non-monetary incentives for a variety of persons and entities to reclaim and improve safety and environmental conditions at AMLs throughout the West," said Skaer.
Mining companies who did not create environmental problems at an AML must be included under Good Samaritan law because "no one knows more about the proper management of mine wastes and reclaiming and mitigating mine sites than the mining industry," she added.
Such laws should also be flexible enough "to allow site-specific solutions" that take into account both private and public lands, Skaer suggested.
"The permit process must be simple, straight-forwarded and understandable," she stressed, adding that the Good Samaritan "must have full legal protection under the permit."
To stimulate interest in AML cleanup, Skaer advocated that the cleanup be qualified as off-site mitigation under the Clean Water Act for mining companies permitting new mines or expanding existing mines.