Conservation coalition urges Congress to pass bipartisan bill to clean up abandoned mines

News for Immediate Release
Oct. 23, 2023
Contact: Thomas Plank, 303-720-0111, [email protected]

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 25, 2023) – A coalition of 41 conservation groups, including organizations representing millions of hunters, anglers, public land advocates, and wildlife professionals, have sent a letter urging Congress to pass the bipartisan Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act (S. 2781), legislation sponsored by U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and James Risch (R-ID). The bill has the support of 26 Senators – thirteen Republicans and thirteen Democrats – and is awaiting consideration by the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.  

“There is no constituency for orange water and no one responsible for cleaning up the abandoned mines causing it,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Good Samaritan legislation will allow cleanups to move forward that otherwise will not happen and we are pleased to stand alongside dozens of groups in the conservation community all calling on lawmakers to pass this wildly bipartisan legislation. We’re ready to get to work and we just need a little help from Congress.”   

The bipartisan legislation would establish a new pilot program under the Environmental Protection Agency to provide limited liability protections for state agencies and qualified parties to voluntarily clean up abandoned hardrock mines, an estimated 22,500 of which pose environmental hazards.   

“Across the nation, thousands of abandoned mines are contaminating our waters and lands with toxic pollution putting wildlife and people at risk. State agencies, conservation groups, and others that want to clean up these messes shouldn’t have to take on liability for doing the right thing,” said David Willms, Associate Vice President for Public Lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act is a long-overdue, common-sense measure that will remove barriers and encourage cleanup efforts so that degraded waterways and landscapes can be restored.”  

In addition to degrading wildlife habitat, an analysis by Trout Unlimited found that more than 110,000 miles of streams are listed as impaired for heavy metals and/or acidity, and abandoned mines are a major source of these impairments due to acid-mine drainage.   

“Abandoned mines have left a terrible environmental legacy across the country, one of contaminated water, poisoned communities, and nobody to be held responsible. The Good Samaritan is one who is willing to help, not because of what they could gain, but because they know it’s right. It is only appropriate that they should be given every opportunity to take on these challenges. This legislation would ease the way for state and local governments and non-profits to take on responsible abandoned mine cleanups without saddling them with the same liability as the ones who caused the mess in the first place. The outcome is cleaner water, improved public health and economic development that will enrich frontline communities. The Nature Conservancy supports this pilot approach and hopes it will be a model for an era of environmental restoration across the United States,” said Tom Cors, Senior Director for Legislative Affairs with The Nature Conservancy.  

The group’s letter notes that, “With tens of thousands of polluting abandoned mine sites throughout the country with no party responsible for reclamation, there is a tremendous opportunity for cleanups to restore the productivity of these sites, not only improving the health of wetlands and downstream fisheries, but also regenerating wildlife habitat on de-vegetated abandoned mine lands.”   

Federal laws treat volunteers who want to clean up abandoned mines—including state agencies and private non-profits groups—as if they are the very polluters who created the mine waste. This creates daunting obstacles that prevent abandoned mine cleanups, including complicated permitting and long-term legal and financial liability for any remaining mine pollution. 

“The sporting community has been working for years to advance Good Samaritan legislation that will make it easier to clean up pollution from abandoned hardrock mines,” said Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “With a thoughtfully revised bill and a long list of bipartisan cosponsors, we are hopeful lawmakers can advance and pass this proposed legislation into law during the 118th Congress.”  

Noting the broad bipartisan support for the legislation, John Gale, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Vice President – Policy and Government Relations said, “With one in four members of the U.S. Senate cosponsoring Good Samaritan legislation, momentum continues to build for the cleanup of abandoned hardrock mines. Rivers and streams on our public lands provide critical riparian areas for big game species as well as coldwater habitat for native fish. With an estimated 40% of watersheds in the West contaminated by acid mine drainage, passing Good Samaritan legislation is imperative to restoring degraded lands and waters and will enhance future hunting and fishing opportunities.”  

Adding to the groups calling on Congress to pass S. 2781 was Torin Miller, Senior Director of Policy, National Deer Association. “The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act is an incredibly important tool to kickstart the remediation of environmentally low-risk orphaned mine sites across the country,” said Miller. “Remediation of mining sites, and especially those that have been orphaned and abandoned, is crucially important to restoring landscape-level environmental services and creating productive wildlife habitat. Deer everywhere thrive in edge and regenerating habitats, and Good Samaritans are eager to provide these services and deer habitat. The National Deer Association is happy to support this legislation.”  

The letter concludes with requesting action from Congress: “We respectfully urge you to swiftly advance Good Samaritan legislation through committee and enact it into law so that those who want to help can be part of the solution cleaning up abandoned mines.”   

“Tens of thousands of abandoned mines are releasing toxic pollutants into the environment every day, posing a major threat to water quality and public health,” said Jonathan Wood, VP of Law and Policy, Property and Environment Research Center. “Current policies punish nonprofit conservation organizations and private companies who want to clean up the mines by forcing them to accept full liability for century-old problems they did not create. This legislation is urgently needed to empower Good Samaritans to help address this crisis, restore watersheds, and improve environmental health.” 

Learn more about abandoned mines and Good Samaritan legislation to clean up abandoned mines at www.passgoodsam.org.

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