New Mexico’s two U.S. senators say they will introduce legislation that would require companies digging for hard-rock minerals on public lands to pay royalties to help cover the cost of cleaning up tens of thousands of mines across the nation abandoned by the industry decades ago.
Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, are proposing the legislation because of the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill that turned sections the Animas River orange and yellow from heavy metal waste that had been sitting in the abandoned mine since the 1920s.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admits to causing the spill while cleanup crews were working at the site. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy once again defended the agency during a hearing Wednesday before Congress.
Defenders of the agency say the root of the problem that caused 3 million gallons of waste to contaminate the Animas River from Silverton, Colo., to Farmington is a lack of money to clean up waste rock piles that sit in old mines.
Udall said in a statement Wednesday that the legislation “would reform the nation’s antiquated mining laws, which date back to 1872, to ensure mining companies pay a royalty for the minerals they take from public lands.”
“That law continues to allow mining corporations to take hard-rock minerals — like gold, silver, copper and uranium — from public lands without paying any royalty. Zero,” Udall said at a congressional hearing Wednesday.
The mining industry is already braced to oppose such legislation.
On Tuesday, Hal Quinn, the head of the National Mining Association, released a statement saying that Congress should offer incentives for voluntary cleanup efforts of legacy mines.
“As the House and Senate begin their investigation into the events surrounding the Animas River spill in Colorado last month, the mining industry hopes these and other deliberations will result in consideration of practical solutions for addressing legacy mines,” Quinn said.
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