The following is a statement from Joan Mulhern, Earthjustice Senior Legislative Counsel, regarding today’s passage in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee of “The Cleanup of Inactive and Abandoned Mines Act” (S. 1848). The bill was adopted by the EPW Committee after a substitute offered by Senator Boxer and others that would not waive any major federal and state environmental laws was defeated on a 7 to 11 vote.
“If the bill adopted by the Senate Environment Committee today becomes law, mining companies will be able to use it to avoid taking basic steps needed to ensure water quality goals are met near these toxic sites. Companies claiming to be involved primarily in clean-up operations will be able to profit from activities that contaminate America’s streams, rivers, and lakes, while ignoring the environmental safeguards intended to prevent dangerous water pollution.
“There is no logic to waiving environmental safeguards in the name of environmental cleanup. No “Good Samaritan” would want to let mining companies spread pollution that hurts people. This should be called the “Deal with the Devil” mining bill instead.
“Waiving long-standing public health and environmental protections is not a solution to the public health and environmental threats posed by abandoned hardrock mines. Yet this misguided legislation will lead to more water pollution – not less – from mining sites throughout the country.”
Water pollution from abandoned hardrock mines is a significant threat to natural resources and public health across the country, especially in the West. It is a problem that should be addressed by Congress through the commitment of financial resources to clean up these mine sites, by aggressively pursing all responsible parties, and enacting stronger financial assurance laws to prevent the problem from growing.
The committee-passed version of S. 1848 is sweeping in scope: it would waive compliance with the Clean Water Act, Superfund, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as well as state, Tribal and local environmental laws for any activities covered by a so-called “Good Samaritan” permit. These new permits would not have to meet any of the technology, water quality, or other standards of the Clean Water Act or the requirements of these other laws.
The proposed legislation would waive compliance with nearly every provision of the Clean Water Act for activities conducted pursuant to a “Good Samaritan” permit. This includes: the general prohibition against discharging pollutants from a point source without a permit (§301); the permit requirements for discharging effluent or other pollutants (§ 402); the requirements that must be met prior to filling in a water of the U.S. (§ 404); oil spill prevention and liability provisions (§ 311); water quality standards (§ 303); the impaired watershed cleanup program (§ 303(d)); as well as other monitoring, reporting, and enforcement provisions of the law.