October 10, 2015--Animas spill: Fix what’s broken, don’t break what works (Grand Junction Sentinel)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s actions in releasing contaminants into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine has triggered much concern and debate about the agency’s actions at the site and what Congress may do to prevent such incidents in the future. Adding to the public’s confusion are erroneous statements by some who see this as a platform for enacting even more onerous restrictions on active mining operations under permit in Colorado. One recent guest column even sought to justify the adoption of the federal Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM) flawed Stream Protection Rule (SPR), a rule that only applies to coal mining. Such a statement muddies the waters of logic. Coal mining did not cause this spill nor has it been associated with any such incidents in Colorado. But the same is also true for the state’s active hardrock and metals mines. In other words, there is a big difference between mining in Colorado today and historic operations which took place prior to the modern era. Mining built the state of Colorado, but there is an environmental legacy associated with older mines. When mines like Gold King commenced operations in the late 19th century, there were no environmental standards in place. There were no bonds to ensure the restoration of lands and site remediation once the operations had ended. The situation is very different today. The public doesn’t fly in airplanes built during the Wright Brothers era and doesn’t drive Model T Fords. As technologies and environmental awareness have evolved, so has modern mining regulation. Hardrock and coal mines today are subject to separate but stringent regulatory programs, both administered by the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining & Safety. In addition, dozens of federal statutes or their state counterparts regulate these operations, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Mine Safety & Health Act, and others. Modern mines are required to test water before receiving a permit and must continuously monitor water throughout the life of the operation. They must post bonds sufficient to ensure the restoration of the site if the operator becomes insolvent or does not perform the required work. Today, Colorado remains a leading mineral producing state and a successful example of environmental protection. Our mines have won both state and national awards for outstanding reclamation and environmental achievement. In fact, the Office of Surface Mining (yes, the very same agency issuing the stream rule) honored one mine in Colorado as one of the top three examples of successful reclamation in the history of modern surface mining regulation. To view the full article and report visit the Grand Junction Sentinel.