Good Sam Law Would Be a Great Start

Steve Fiscor

During January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA), the Justice Department, the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the State of Colorado settled with Sunnyside Gold Corp. and its Canadian parent Kinross Gold Corp. resolving federal and state liability related to the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) Superfund Site. The BPMD Superfund Site is located near Silverton, Colorado, and includes the Gold King mine and many other abandoned mines. Readers might remember the Gold King spill in 2015 that fouled waterways from southwest Colorado to Nevada.

Under the agreement, Sunnyside Gold and Kinross Gold will together pay $45 million to the United States and State of Colorado, and the United States will dismiss its claims against the mining companies. The United States will also contribute $45 million to the continuing cleanup at the BPMD Superfund Site, and the mining companies will dismiss its claims against the United States. The EPA said the settlement would address the cleanup responsibility and ensure that site cleanup work will continue.

“The Gold King spill is a vivid reminder of the dangers associated with the thousands of abandoned and unclaimed hard rock mines across the United States, particularly in the West,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau. “Mining companies should be held accountable for these sites that put communities and tribal lands at risk of disastrous pollution.”

Someone needs to remind Beaudreau that it was the EPA that caused the Gold King spill. It was one of the worst mining-related environmental disasters in the United States. On August 5, 2015, Environmental Restoration, a contractor working on behalf of the EPA, accidentally released 3 million gallons of water from the Gold King mine into the upper portions of Upper Animas Watershed. The agency and its contractor were unprepared for a worst-case scenario and, when they pierced a seal with a backhoe that day, they caused a blow-out that sent an orange plume across the western U.S. The EPA could not sue itself so it was protected from liability.

The Sunnyside mine workings had no physical connection to the Gold King mine. Kinross and Sunnyside have already completed substantial remediation work in the Upper Animas Watershed, which has been well documented in Engineering & Mining Journal (E&MJ). It’s good to see that the money is earmarked for that region. There is a reason that more companies do not get involved in restoration projects on Abandoned Mine Lands (AML). It’s the aforementioned liability. During early February, Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) introduced the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2022, which requires the EPA to establish a seven-year pilot program for 15 Good Sam AML remediation projects.

The Good Sam legislation would allow mining companies or other interested partied to voluntarily reclaim an AML site without the threat of a potentially enormous liability imposed by federal and state environmental regulations. Someday some of the brightest environmental professionals from mining companies and universities could work together without the fear of liability to restore lands throughout the western U.S.

Steve Fiscor, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, E&MJ

As featured in Womp 2022 Vol 02 -