January 16, 2016--Outdated mining laws need fundamental reform (Aspen Daily Times)

If anything was made clear by last summer’s Gold King Mine spill, it was that the laws governing hardrock mining cleanup are woefully inadequate to respond to the vast economic and environmental liabilities perched above mountain communities throughout the West. The regulatory environment that governs how mining occurs — and the responsibilities assigned to various parties for reclamation, damage and other liabilities — has been outdated for more than a century. Adding to that is the liability that would be assigned should any clean-up endeavors go awry. The combined effect, exacerbated by insufficient government and private funding, is a system ill-equipped to meaningfully address acid mine drainage. Fixing the problem requires a multi-faceted legislative approach. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, is absolutely correct in asserting the importance of Good Samaritan legislation, which would protect those who take on mine clean-up from the liability associated with the effort — or the particular mine’s problems in the first place. He and his Colorado colleagues across the rotunda agree and have been attempting to enact such a measure for years. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Denver, and former Sen. Mark Udall carried a bill that would have protected third party clean-up groups from liability under the Clean Water Act, but that measure did not pass the Senate. Tipton had sponsored companion legislation in the House. Now, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, has taken up the cause along with Bennet and Tipton. The three are right to do so. Protecting those who are eager and equipped to take on such an effort — a wholly public good — is an obvious step toward encouraging mine clean-up. But Tipton is wrong to say that it is the only legislative attention needed. In order to get at the fundamental issue in the matter — largely, funding — Congress must at long last take on the 1872 Mining Act and bring it into, at least, the 20th century, if not the 21st. Tipton has balked at the subject, while Bennet is championing its need. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015, which Bennet and New Mexico Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall introduced in November, would reform the regulatory environment governing hardrock mining, including a royalty requirement for the activity. Unlike natural gas or coal mining, where operators must pay for the privilege of extracting minerals, no such rules bind hardrock mining. That further compounds the problem of paying for cleanup when situations like the Gold King Mine spill — or those at any of the approximately 500,000 mines across the West — occur. Bennet’s bill would apply a 2 to 5 percent royalty on hardrock mining, direct some funding to states to use in mine cleanup projects and allow the Interior Secretary to exempt a company from the royalty should there be a proven hardship. It is a sensible and much-needed complement to the Good Samaritan protection that is also long overdue. To view the full article visit the Aspen Daily Times.