Good deeds should go unpunished. That is the motivation behind new bipartisan legislation jointly introduced on Thursday, Aug. 1, by Sen.Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.). The Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2013 seeks to allow so-called Good Samaritans take on projects to improve water quality in areas where there are abandoned mines, without fear of incurring liability under the Clean Water Act.
It takes a special kind of person, or organization, to want to clean up someone else’s mess. Yet until now, Good Sams (ranging from individuals to citizen groups to governmental and nongovernmental agencies) have often been hampered in their desire to effectively mitigate pollution from leaky abandoned mines, because certain provisions in the federal Clean Water Act create major stumbling blocks to such efforts.
The Clean Water Act likes big, perfect fixes – like permanent water treatment plants that cost millions to build and millions more annually to operate, and which convert toxic water into potable stuff that fish can cruise around in. So-called Good Samaritans have had to walk away from more modest mine cleanup projects for fear that if they don’t bring the discharge water all the way up to CWA standards, they may be sued by a third-party citizen or even another environmental group.
The Udall-Tipton bill offers a meaningful, lasting solution to this vexing problem, by giving Good Samaritan groups additional binding legal safeguards they need to remediate leaky orphaned mine sites and keep Colorado's streams and water clean. There are more than 7,000 abandoned hardrock mine sites located in Colorado and thousands more throughout the West.
The bill is similar to legislation Udall introduced in 2009. Among its provisions, it would:
• Create a new program under the Clean Water Act to help promote the Good Samaritan efforts of those who have no legal responsibility for abandoned hardrock mines by allowing them to qualify for cleanup permits;
• Provide some liability protections for those who complete volunteer cleanups of abandoned mine sites pursuant to pre-approved restoration plans;
• Allow the EPA, state government or tribal governments to issue permits for cleanups.
The proposed legislation compliments and gives added teeth to a procedural fix to the Good Samaritan problem, which Udall worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to enact last fall, after years of frustrating, failed attempts to get meaningful Good Samaritan legislation passed. The new EPA policy clarified that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a clean water permit during or after a successful clean-up.
"It's a good thing for all of us when mining companies and local conservation groups want to make an effort to cleanup abandoned mine pollution. This is something that the federal government should be encouraging, not restricting by putting up hurdles to those willing to do the needed work," Tipton said. "We're looking to provide momentum to these important efforts by removing existing hurdles that discourage Good Samaritan groups from cleaning up Colorado's abandoned mines and providing our communities and environment with a valuable service."
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