Congressional mining reform legislation update

January 4, 2010

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From the Associated Press via the San Jose Mercury News:

Among proposals to reform the 1872 Mining Law are plans to implement royalties on mining profits for the first time and reclamation fees for cleaning up abandoned mines. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had testified to a Senate committee in July 2009 that he wanted reform that protects mining, protects the environment and provides for the cleanup of such mines. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is shepherding the broadest plan, which calls for an adjusted 2 percent to 5 percent royalty after transportation and processing costs are taken out. It also gives the Interior Department more discretion on environmental matters and calls for the money raised under the bill to be used for reclaiming abandoned mine lands. The proposal has the support of a number of conservation groups, including the Washington D.C.-based Earthworks. Cathy Carlson, an adviser to Earthworks, said Bingaman told conservationists who recently met with him that he hoped to move the bill out of committee in April…

Republican Reps. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado, and Rob Bishop, of Utah, have introduced a good Samaritan bill that allows mining companies and nonprofit organizations to clean up old mines without liability for old environmental damage. Bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., also focus on abandoned mine provisions. Carlson said Udall’s bill, which reduces cleanup liability under the Clean Water Act, has “broad support.”[...]

Lamborn and Bishop’s proposal calls for a 2 percent net proceeds royalty on new mines on public land, an approach that leaders of the National Mining Association believe is a better fit with mining industry interests. Eklund-Brown said she emphasized in NBC interview yet to air that any royalty must be industry-specific and not compared with those paid by industries such as oil and gas.

More General Mining Act of 1872 coverage here, S.1777 coverage here, S.787 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.


S. 1777: Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2009

December 14, 2009

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This video about Good Samaritan cleanups has been making the rounds in the blogosphere. Click through and watch it. It takes about 6 minutes.

More S. 1777 coverage here.


S. 796 Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009: U.S. Senator Bennet signs on as co-sponsor

December 12, 2009

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From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The Colorado Democrat said Thursday that he’s joining Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to reform rules covering the mining of gold, copper, uranium and other minerals. The bill would assess royalties on hard-rock mining on public land for the first time at rates of 2 percent to 5 percent. The proposal also would eliminate the ability to buy public land for mining for as little as $2.50 an acre. It would require reviewing whether some public land should be off-limits to development.

More S. 796 coverage here.


ASARCO parent Grupo Mexico ponies up $1.79 billion for mining cleanup

December 11, 2009

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From the Environmental News Service:

ASARCO LLC is a mining, smelting, and refining company based in Tucson, Arizona that mines and processes primarily copper. Parent corporation Grupo Mexico is providing the $1.79 billion to resolve the ASARCO’s environmental liabilities from operations that contaminated land, water and wildlife resources on federal, state, tribal and private land in 19 states. “Through this historic settlement, the American public is compensated for the damage and loss of natural resources resulting from ASARCO’s past mining, smelting and refining operations,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Were it not for this agreement, these injured resources would either remain impaired for future generations or require taxpayer expenditures to achieve environmental restoration.” The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at the more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states, said federal officials…

The contaminated Superfund sites are in Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

More superfund coverage here.


Uncompahgre River: ‘Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed’ December 11

December 5, 2009

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership will be hosting a daylong workshop titled “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” on Friday, Dec. 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center. Various representatives from state and local organizations will be attending the workshop, which will focus on reclamation activities and abandoned mine lands in the upper Uncompahgre watershed. The workshop’s organizer, Andrew Madison, who is an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer working in Ridgway to develop a mine reclamation strategy for abandoned mine lands in the watershed, said that while there has already been a lot of mine reclamation work completed in the area, the work has just begun…

The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership is a volunteer group seeking to involve citizens and organizations in the Uncompahgre watershed. Its mission is to protect and restore water quality in the Uncompahgre River through coordinated community and agency efforts. “I am really looking forward to the workshop,” Madison said. “I have had a great response so far and I am looking forward to getting people to talk to each other on these issues.” For more information about “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” contact Madison at 413/297-7232 or at ridgway.vista@gmail.com.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.


S.1777 and S.796: What do the bills mean for acid mine drainage cleanup efforts?

November 30, 2009

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From the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

…toxic waterways around the state and country — are at the center of a legislative tug of war. So-called Good Samaritan laws seek to lift liability so clean-up work can begin. Those laws, however, are opposed by environmentalists who argue they might erode the strong federal Clean Water Act. The better approach, they say, is to make mining companies pay to properly clean up the messes they have made and are making by revamping the nation’s 1872 Mining Law, which has let the extraction industry off the hook for more than a century…

Proponents of Udall’s Good Samaritan legislation, however, argue that the legislation is not meant to substitute for the new 1872 Mining Law reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by fellow Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a bill that would at last set up severance taxes to pay for cleanups. Good Sam legislation, they argue, is a necessary corollary to Bingaman’s legislation. “You need all the pieces,” said Peter Butler of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Even if you did set up a fund with severance taxes, you’ve got to have someone who is going to use that money, and they’re not willing to use it if they’re going to be liable.”[...]

DRMS Abandoned Mine Program Manager Loretta Pineda said fear of legal liability is real and a major stopping point in clean up projects. Pineda said the state is stymied by fear of incurring the Clean Water Act financial burdens that currently faces any third party that would take it upon itself to drain an abandoned mine. “There are several projects we’d like to work on, but we’re unable to do so because of liability,” said Pineda flatly.

In the Animas River Watershed, the Animas River Stakeholders Group has determined that of the 1,500 historic mine sites contributing cadmium, copper, aluminum, manganese, zinc, lead and iron to the watershed, about 34 waste sites contribute roughly 90 percent of the waste-site pollution, and about 33 draining mines contribute 90 percent of the draining-mine pollution. Bill Simon, a member of the group, explained that the group can address the waste sites without incurring liability, because no water is involved. But work on most of the 33 draining mines — apart from 5 addressed by a mining company and several that are on federal land — await some kind of liability waiver, said Simon. Even if the group had funding, neither the Animas River Stakeholders Group nor any other agency is willing to risk being sued for a problem not of their making, according to Simon.

More S.1777 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.


Colorado will score $42 million from ASARCO reorganization plan

November 27, 2009

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From the Cortez Journal (Joe Hanel):

A Texas judge on Tuesday finalized the reorganization plan for ASARCO Inc., a copper mining and smelting company that owned mines around Silver Lake, which sits west of Silverton at 12,000 feet. In all, Colorado will get $42 million from the $1.7 billion reorganization plan. The state will use $16 million for ASARCO’s smelter in north Denver. The rest will go to mine cleanup around Colorado, including the Summitville site in Rio Grande County, according to a news release from Attorney General John Suthers.

“ASARCO’s reorganization is exceptional in that Colorado and the federal government will recover every dollar they claimed for environmental remediation – plus interest,” Suthers said. “These funds will go a long way to improving and remediating sites ASARCO operated at throughout the state.”[...]

The settlement was a happy surprise for Bill Simon of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which works on mine cleanup around Silverton. “It seems like $4 million would be more than we expected,” Simon said. “That sounds very good.” ASARCO owned property and mines around Silver Lake, including the lake itself, Simon said. The area saw heavy mining in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and now waste and tailings from the mines are stacked next to the lake and cover the lake bed. At least one mine is draining acid into the lake, Simon said. However, cleanup of the lake hasn’t been the top priority for the Animas River Stakeholders. “That area is so remote and so difficult to remediate, we would probably like to use those funds in a more appropriate area and get more bang for our buck,” Simon said.

More coverage from The Denver Post (Tim Hoover). From the article:

The Globe plant has been the site for smelting or refining a number of heavy metals since 1886, and neighborhoods around it have undergone intensive environmental cleanup efforts for decades. Rep. Joel Judd, D-Denver, whose district includes the neighborhoods around the plant, said he hoped the bankruptcy plan would move the Globe site closer to being reused. “That thing’s been sort of a blight on a hill looking down on Globeville for a century,” Judd said. “It has the potential to be a residential site.”

Randall Weiner, an attorney who has represented Globe ville residents in a lawsuit against Asarco, said the bankruptcy plan appeared to also be good for his clients. “I suspect that moneys will be released, and they (residents in the lawsuit) will all receive the moneys that Asarco promised them 10 years ago,” Weiner said.

More Colorado Water coverage here.


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