Here’s a call to action from Environment America (Russell Bassett):
“Catastrophe!” read the local headlines after 3 million gallons of metal-laden muck spilled into Colorado’s Animas River earlier last month.
The spill forced the city of Durango to close its drinking water intake, and local business that depend on the river were shut down for weeks. The spill traveled through Colorado into New Mexico and Utah, creating concerns for drinking water, crops, and wildlife all along its path.
The orange river made international news, but it also helped highlight a problem that is long overdue for a solution. Hard rock metal mining is the most destructive industry in the world. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, metal mining is the nation’s top toxic water polluter.
Mining in the western United States has contaminated headwaters of more than 40 percent of the watersheds in the West. Remediation of the half-million abandoned mines in 32 states may cost up to $35 billion or more.
The main reason for this wide-scale degradation of our waterways is an antiquated law that still governs hard rock mining throughout the country. The 1872 Mining Law allows foreign and domestic companies to take valuable minerals from our public lands without paying any royalties, and it still allows public land to be purchased and spoiled for mining at the 1872 price of less than $5 an acre — that’s the price of one mocha for an acre of public land.
This outdated law contains no environmental provisions, allowing the mining industry to wreak havoc on water supplies, wildlife and landscapes. For example, abandoned mines are still leaking 540 to 740 gallons a MINUTE of acid drainage into the Animas River headwaters, degrading miles of the watershed. This was the case before the Gold King Mine spill and is still the case after the spill, and there are many more examples throughout much of the West. In fact, it’s estimated that there are half a million abandoned mines throughout the nation.
While the Animas River spill was a tragedy of the first order — and some polluters friends in Congress want to turn it into a witch-hunt of the Environmental Protection Agency — the spill should be the much-needed motivation to enact a solution to clean up after mining’s toxic legacy.
The Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015 (HR 963) would fix the problem, but, unfortunately, due to the current political situation in both houses of Congress, this bill has basically zero chance of getting passed. And we need action now because several proposed mines throughout the country could be approved before a real solution to mining’s toxic legacy is passed by Congress.
The Pebble Mine in the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, Upper Peninsula Mine near Lake Michigan, Black Butte Mine on Montana’s Smith River, and the Canyon Mine near the Grand Canyon are just a few examples of proposed mines that could wreak havoc on local ecosystems and potentially contaminate watersheds for generations to come.
People from across the country travel to raft and fish in these rivers and lakes. It’s time to protect them from toxic mining pollution. Tax payers are bearing the brunt of cleaning up after the mining industry through superfund designation and other federal funding programs. Using public funds to clean up after a toxic industry, while at the same time allowing that industry to continue to create new mines, is unacceptable. Since Congress won’t do what’s needed, our president should act quickly and decisively.
President Obama has the authority to put a moratorium on all new mines near our waters on public lands. The mining industry should not be allowed to use our public lands to build new mines in and around our cherished waterways until it cleans up from past mining operations. Please tell President Obama to reject all new mine proposals near our rivers until the mining industry cleans up its act. Let’s find the silver lining to the toxic orange river. Please add your voice now.
From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Thursday [October 1, 2015] expressed concerns with the prospect of federal officials moving forward with a Superfund listing for Silverton near the inactive Gold King Mine.
A divide has emerged over the Superfund question, with some residents and officials of Silverton worried the listing would be a stain on the community. Silverton and San Juan County officials in August clarified their perspective, suggesting that they are open to a listing but that they have not “foreclosed any options.”
In comments before the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Tipton, a Cortez Republican, stated: “Designating Silverton a Superfund site … could severely damage the town’s reputation and prove costly to the local economy.”[…]
Andy Corra, owner of 4Corners Riversports in Durango, who spoke at the same hearing, pushed officials to pursue a Superfund listing.
“Right now, adding the Animas Basin’s offending mines to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List is really the only clear path forward,” Corra said.
Listening to the hearing was Colorado U.S. Sens. Cory Garner, a Republican, and Michael Bennet, a Democrat. They joined Tipton in pushing for good Samaritan legislation, which would allow private and state entities to restore inactive mines without the fear of liability. [ed. emphasis mine]
From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:
A rafting company owner, a county commissioner and a chamber of commerce official told the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee that they don’t yet know the full economic impact of the spill, but it has been devastating so far, scaring away visitors and triggering layoffs at travel-related businesses…
La Plata County Commissioner Bradford Blake said outdoor recreation companies, farms, greenhouses and other businesses that rely on the river and its water suffered immediate losses ranging from $8,600 to $100,000 each. “Clearly, we do not know yet what the long-term impact of the Gold King spill, and the publicity generated by it, might be,” he said.
From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):
Navajo Nation leaders on Friday announced they are asking the federal government for a preliminary damage assessment in the wake of the August Gold King Mine spill upstream in Colorado.
Navajo President Russell Begaye on Thursday sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking the estimation.
Begaye said it is the first step in the application process for public assistance for recovery from a disaster for eligible applicants.
“The spill caused damage to the water quality of the San Juan River to such a massive extent that a state of emergency was declared by the Navajo Nation,” Begaye in the letter. “All of the economic, health, cultural and other impacts to the Navajo people are not yet known.”