August 24, 2015--Mining laws need to change (Grand Junction Sentinel)

Beneath the acidic, toxic, yellow water spilling from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River, there are broader implications. While tragic, the spill is indicative of a much bigger problem: an archaic statute — still the law of the land — that allows hardrock mining companies to take public resources (like gold and copper) for free, to neglect and ignore the industry’s past mistakes, and to build mines that we know will pollute forever. A closer examination of what led to this disaster reveals an underlying problem that is uncomfortably common among the hundreds of thousands of inactive and abandoned mines that dot the American landscape. The EPA lists the metal mining industry as the top toxic polluter in the U.S. Abandoned mines pollute an estimated 40 percent of headwaters in Western watersheds. Between the ongoing problems of inactive mines, the magnitude of pollution coming from existing ones, and the anticipated consequences of proposed ones, we need to look carefully at the laws that continue to govern these activities. Hardrock (mostly metal) mines fall under the jurisdiction of the federal 1872 General Mining Law, which was written to spur “settlement” of the West during the 19th century. Now, nearly 150 years later, the West is settled and we need to protect the people who live here. The 1872 Mining Law mandates that mining is the highest and best use of public lands, no matter what other potential uses — whether it’s a drinking watershed, for hunting or fishing, or anything else. The law allows huge foreign-owned corporations to take minerals from public lands without any royalties paid to their owners, the American taxpayer. And unlike the coal mining industry, hardrock miners pay no abandoned mine reclamation fees. It is precisely this lack of dedicated funding that perpetuates incidents and consequences like the Gold King spill. All along, Colorado state officials have had a clear message: More funding means more cleanups, fewer risks for spills, and ultimately, cleaner rivers. It’s unfortunate that it took a spill like this for their message to be heard. To view the full article and report visit the Grand Junction Sentinel.