Help Good Samaritans clean up

The National Mining Association (NMA) reports that Congress should enact legislation this year to encourage clean up of abandoned mineral mines by shielding ‘Good Samaritan’ parties from liability for conditions created by others, in the opinion of  a mining executive last week, speaking before a House panel.

By offering all parties, including mining companies, limited protection from legal liability for pollution caused by others during clean up of abandoned sites, ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation would help remove existing obstacles to the remediation of many abandoned mines found throughout the west of the US. That is the opinion of John Mudge, Director of Environmental Affairs for Newmont Mining. "Good Samaritan legislation will create a framework and incentives for governmental entities, citizens groups, non-profit organizations, and mining companies such as Newmont to voluntarily remediate the pollution problems caused by others at abandoned hardrock mine lands," he said. "Mining companies that did not create the environmental problems should qualify for ‘Good Samaritan’ status while cleaning them up."

Mudge explained that some fraction of the thousands of mineral mines, abandoned long before passage of environmental laws, still present safety and environmental hazards that could be controlled or eliminated if mining companies were encouraged to clean up and reclaim them.  These are the ‘legacy’ problems that are to be found all over the world. One important project on ‘legacy’ clean up is based at the Eden project in Cornwall, UK, and involves Rio Tinto, Anglo American and others. Those ‘others’ do not include Newmont, which is a company that is very good on talk but may be lacking when it comes to action.

Mudge explained that in the US, companies not responsible for ‘legacy’ sites are discouraged from cleaning them up by the unlimited liability provisions and stringent standards of laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. "The perfect should not be the enemy of the good, particularly where persons will be voluntarily remediating problems they did not create," he said.

Testifying on behalf of the NMA, Mudge endorsed the Good Samaritan legislation sponsored by Colorado Senators Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard, which "contains elements necessary to remove the existing legal impediments that deter mining companies and others from undertaking investigations and remediations of abandoned mine lands." These impediments have been identified by The National Academy of Sciences, the Center for the American West, and the Western Governors’ Association.

For more information on abandoned mine lands, see NMA’s website at: www.nma.org/policy/legislative/national_minerals_policy.asp.