A cleanup that con­ser­va­tion­ists and min­ers can agree on

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Chris Wood and Mitch Krebs

Coloradoans know well the im­pact of aban­doned mines and the risk they can pose to rivers and streams. Colorado has 13,000 miles of these streams, some of which are im­paired from min­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and min­ers long gone.

As CEO of Coeur Min­ing and as CEO of Trout Un­lim­ited, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily agree on ev­ery­thing. With the re­cent in­tro­duc­tion of Good Sa­mar­i­tan leg­is­la­tion, we rec­og­nize the need and op­por­tu­nity we now have to clean up aban­doned legacy mines on pub­lic and pri­vate land if Congress will act and pass this im­por­tant bill.

Given the chance, we know we can make a pos­i­tive im­pact on the is­sue of aban­doned mines and their po­ten­tial im­pact on our na­tion’s wa­ter.

As our na­tion grew a hun­dred years ago, min­ing played a vi­tal role. Un­for­tu­nately, con­tem­po­rary laws and reg­u­la­tions did not ex­ist in the Gold Rush era.

Left over from long ago, aban­doned mines present safety haz­ards, cause sed­i­men­ta­tion and ero­sion, and of­ten pol­lute wa­ter, threat­en­ing drink­ing wa­ter and dec­i­mat­ing fish pop­u­la­tions. But many of these mines can be cleaned up, of­ten in the span of days or weeks.

Take for in­stance the Doc­tor Mine near Berthoud, Colorado that we vis­ited to­gether this fall. Mined for gold and sil­ver, the Doc­tor Mine closed around 1900, and for the next 100 years drainage from the mine con­tain­ing met­als such as zinc, cad­mium, and lead pol­luted the West Fork of Clear Creek. Trout Un­lim­ited re­cently led an ef­fort to clean up the mine with the sup­port of the U.S. For­est Ser­vice and Freeport MacMoRan, a min­ing com­pany that op­er­ates a nearby mine.

How­ever, the only rea­son that restora­tion took place on the Doc­tor Mine is that it is on pub­lic land. That meant the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as­sumed the li­a­bil­ity for its cleanup — an im­por­tant point.

As writ­ten, the law for aban­doned mines is if you touch it, you own it — a li­a­bil­ity most can­not as­sume. This leaves the West­ern U.S. lit­tered with old mines that present safety haz­ards and en­dan­ger hun­dreds of thou­sands of miles of rivers and streams when — with a sim­ple change in the laws — qual­i­fied en­ti­ties like Trout Un­lim­ited and Coeur Min­ing could be­gin tack­ling these problems.

Pol­lu­tion from aban­doned mines may be the most over­looked threat to wa­ter qual­ity in the United States. Most vex­ing is that clean­ing up most aban­doned mines is not dif­fi­cult, and com­pa­nies such as Coeur Min­ing are will­ing to help. In the case of the Doc­tor Mine, it took the TU crew about three weeks to bury the mine tail­ings, a sim­ple step that im­proved the wa­ter qual­ity problems that had per­sisted for more than a cen­tury.

Congress can fix this. Both the min­ing in­dus­try and con­ser­va­tion groups have tried for decades to pass leg­is­la­tion that would re­move the le­gal li­a­bil­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with good Sa­mar­i­tans clean­ing up aban­doned mines. It is time for Congress to take ac­tion.

The leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion is straight­for­ward. Congress needs to pass good sam leg­is­la­tion, mak­ing tai­lored and tar­geted amend­ments to the Clean Wa­ter Act and the Su­per­fund law so that lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Trout Un­lim­ited, min­ing com­pa­nies such as Coeur Min­ing, and oth­ers can clean up aban­doned mines with­out ex­pos­ing them­selves to le­gal li­a­bil­ity. These groups bear no re­spon­si­bil­ity for these old sites, yet stand ready to take ac­tion to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity and ad­dress the po­ten­tial threats these sites present to hu­man health, safety, and the en­vi­ron­ment.

If Congress can make these com­mon-sense changes, it would cre­ate op­por­tu­nity for pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ships and lever­age the broad and deep lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence that our or­ga­ni­za­tions have to of­fer.

Toxic pol­lu­tion has no place in our rivers and streams. With the help of Congress, and Colorado, we can tackle these old mines that have cre­ated safety is­sues and have im­pacted our streams and rivers for more than a cen­tury.

Brennan Lins­ley, As­so­ci­ated Press

In this Aug. 12, 2015 file photo, wa­ter flows through a se­ries of re­ten­tion ponds built to con­tain and fil­ter out heavy met­als and chem­i­cals from the Gold King mine chem­i­cal ac­ci­dent, in the spill­way about 1/4 mile down­stream from the mine, out­side Sil­ver­ton, Colo.

Chris Wood is the pres­i­dent and CEO of Trout Un­lim­ited. Mitch Krebs is the pres­i­dent and CEO of Coeur Min­ing.

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