Published: February 1, 2016
By: Lauren Pagel
From the factsheet:
The August 5, 2015 Gold King Mine disaster in Colorado has renewed interest in reforming our nation’s outdated oversight of hardrock mining (mostly metals like gold and copper) in order to clean up old mines. We must also ensure modern mines do not pollute our nation’s increasingly precious water resources or harm important ecological or cultural resources.
In addition to an update of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, we need to modernize the mining regulations under our current public lands laws that govern mining on lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management -- the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA).
The metals mining industry is the single largest source of toxic waste and one of the most environmentally destructive industries in the country. Today’s mining operations literally replace mountains with mile-wide pits, and treat excavated ore with huge quantities of toxic chemicals such as cyanide and sulfuric acid.
Unfortunately, the rules governing hardrock mining on public lands have not been meaningfully revised since they were originally enacted in 1980. In the meantime, as modern mining practices have enabled the excavation of lower and lower grades of ore, the quantities of waste generated by these operations have increased. Producing 1 ounce of gold now generates more than 80 tons of mining waste.
The mining industry has increasingly failed to contain the waste it generates. Analysis of all mining waste containment failures since 1910 shows they are increasing in frequency and severity -- and will continue to do so unless practices change. The lesson of Colorado’s Gold King, Brazil’s Germano, and British Columbia’s Mount Polley -- all mine disasters within the last year and a half -- is that catastrophes can happen anywhere without proper protections.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 40 percent of the headwaters of watersheds in the western United States are contaminated by mining. To protect our nation’s waters from future toxic mine waste disasters, we need an update to our mining regulations to create modern performance, reclamation, and enforcement standards.