Legislation needed to clean up abandoned mines

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The following is the abbreviated testimony of Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. Wood spoke to the committee on the need for Good Samaritan legislation that would allow organizations like Trout Unlimited to clean up abandoned mines in order prevent disasters like last summer’s blow-out at the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado: 
Chairman Gibbs, Ranking Member Napolitano, and Subcommittee Members:
My name is Chris Wood. I am the President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on this important issue.
I offer the following testimony on behalf of Trout Unlimited and its 155,000 members nationwide.  My testimony will focus on the cleanup of abandoned mine lands, specifically the need to facilitate abandoned mine cleanups by Good Samaritans—those who have no legal obligation to take on an abandoned mine cleanup, but wish to do so in order to improve water quality.
TU’s mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and the watersheds they depend on.  In pursuit of this mission, TU has worked to restore streams and rivers damaged by pollution from abandoned mines from the Appalachian coal fields in Pennsylvania to the hardrock mining areas of the Rocky Mountain States, and my testimony is based upon these experiences.
Two century’s worth of problems and solutions – A Short Summary
Slide 1 (above): By now this image is emblazoned in everyone’s mind. The three million gallon spill in August of polluted water from the Gold King mine near Silverton Colorado drew national attention.
Slide 2 (above): Less well-known are the thousands of similar, smaller scale abandoned mines that pollute our rivers and streams every day. The lesson from Gold King is not that an EPA contractor screwed up, it is that we need a much greater sense of urgency about addressing the problem of pollution from abandoned mines all over the nation.
Abandoned hard rock mines affect 40 percent of headwaters in the western United States.  The lack of dedicated funding sources and burdensome liability risk for would-be Good Samaritans stalls efforts to clean-up abandoned hardrock mines.
In the East, pollution from abandoned coal mines continues to damage over 10,000 miles of stream in Pennsylvania and West Virginia alone.
The east, however, should consider itself fortunate. The production of coal is taxed in this country. Part of that funding supports an Abandoned Mineland Fund (AML Fund). Since 1977, more than $8 billion has been put to good use cleaning up and making safe abandoned coal mines.  Unfortunately, no similar fund exists to clean up the legacy of hardrock mining, particularly in the western U.S.
We know how to clean up abandoned mines. In Pennsylvania, aided by state-based Good Samaritan policy, Trout Unlimited is working with State agencies, watershed groups and other partners, to conduct more than 250 abandoned coal mine pollution projects.
Slide 3 (above): In places such as Kerber Creek in Colorado, TU and its partners restored over 80 acres of mine tailings, improved 8 miles of stream, and installed over 340 instream structures that are now home to a reproducing brook trout population.  Volunteers logged over 13,000 hours of work in the watershed over the past three years. The restoration received awards from the BLM, the State of Colorado, the Forest Service, and the Public Lands Foundation.
Notwithstanding what happened at Gold King, we know how to clean up abandoned mines in the East and the West. Two things would dramatically accelerate the scope and the scale of our efforts to make our water cleaner and our rivers more swimmable and fishable.
First, as is the case with coal, a dedicated funding source is needed for cleaning up abandoned hard rock mines.  Almost every commodity developed off public lands–coal, wood fiber, oil, gas, and forage— has dedicated funding for restoration. The only commodity that lacks such a dedicated fund is hard rock minerals. It is time that changed.
Second, local communities, private interests, and groups such as TU need protection from the liability associated with cleaning up abandoned mines. The Clean Water Act and CERCLA have been tremendously effective at cleaning our rivers and holding polluters accountable for their actions. They are not, however, laws that lend themselves to permitting cleaning up abandoned mines. My written testimony provides recommendations for tailored changes that would fix the problem.
Thank you for considering our views, and thank you for working with us on this important matter.
We strongly urge you to work together to develop and introduce a strong, bipartisan bill to help us clean up abandoned mines. We stand ready to work with you to get such a bill introduced and on a track to move through Congress so that affected communities around the country will again have clean, fishable waters.
Read Wood’s complete testimony here
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