New hope for abandoned mines
Touch polluted water and it's yours forever - or at least the liability is. All across the West, well-meaning citizens have shied away from cleaning up abandoned hardrock mines and their polluted streams for fear they could be held responsible under the Clean Water Act.
Now, U.S. Reps. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., want to amend the act to offer good Samaritans some protection from permanent liability. In March, they introduced a bill that would grant special permits to third parties interested in cleaning up abandoned mines. A reclamation fee, exacted on existing mining companies that operate on public land or that purchased their land under the general mining laws, would pay for the projects.
"This bill is a good first step on the road to mining law reform," says Alan Septoff of the Washington, D.C.-based Mineral Policy Center.
The mining industry says it wants in on the deal, too. Carol Ralston, of the National Mining Association, says, due to improved technology, mining companies can clean up abandon mines while remining their old waste piles.
Environmentalists say they'll fight any attempt by industry to amend the bill.