Western senators launch effort to reform mining law to spur cleanup – by Bruce Finley (Denver Post – November 5, 2015)

http://www.denverpost.com/

Legislation introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet and colleagues from New Mexico would charge companies fees and royalties

Western senators Thursday weighed in on the toxic mines problem, launching legislation to reform the nation’s 1872 Mining Law and require companies to pay fees to create a cleanup fund for abandoned inactive mines.

The legislation, introduced by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, would apply to existing and new mining operations. It aims to raise at least $100 million a year.

The idea is to create a new path — beyond “Superfund” responses to environmental disasters — to begin to clean up tens of thousands of inactive mines in Western states that continue to taint headwaters of the nation’s rivers. These include an estimated 230 sites in Colorado where state officials have documented bit-by-bit degradation of waterways.

Congress has been giving greater attention to the problem after the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine disaster in southwestern Colorado above Silverton, where an EPA crew triggered a deluge of 3 million gallons of mustard-yellow liquid that worsened contamination of the Animas River.

The Gold King disaster was “a sudden and devastating reminder of the dangers abandoned mines pose in Colorado and across the West,” Bennet said.

Senate and House lawmakers also have been developing separate legislation to encourage voluntary cleanups by shielding companies and conservation groups from liability.

The senators unveiled the legislation in a conference call with reporters.

The legislation — the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 — would change the 1872 law “by eliminating patenting of federal lands.”

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