For the last two years, Earthworks and our partners throughout Colorado have worked closely with legislators, regulatory agencies, local elected officials and community groups to update to the state’s mining law to protect communities from mines that pollute in perpetuity, and to protect taxpayers from the cost of cleaning them up.
House Bill 1113 – Protect Water Quality [from] Adverse Mining Impacts – passed with bipartisan support. Both democrats and republicans agreed this bill was about common sense and decency, and not pushing problems we create now onto future generations. Colorado now joins a small handful of other states, most notably New Mexico, that have similar laws.
The new law imposes three important changes:
- No more “forever” pollution. New mines must disclose, using “substantial evidence”, approximately when water treatment operations will no longer be needed. Mines in Colorado can no longer receive reclamation permits that rely on perpetual water treatment, and the bonds companies must post for water treatment is tied to that timeframe. This eliminates the possibility that treatment will persist indefinitely, and ensures that the money for final reclamation will be available not long after mining ceases. It serves as a model for what mining should look like in the 21st century: high tech mines that clean up fully and permanently after themselves, rather than leaving liabilities that will remain, no matter what we do, for hundreds, or thousands, of years.
- No more relying on corporate guarantees, AKA self-bonding. This ensures that companies put up actual funds or certain approved financial assets for their reclamation plans (as well as any short-term water treatment), not a credit rating or promissory note that the money will exist far down the road.
- Finally, bonding requirements will now expressly take into account water quality, rather than simply surface reclamation.
This is a big win and an exciting moment—and hopefully a sign of things to come. It is high time we began demanding the hardrock mining industry adhere to the fundamentals of common decency: you clean up after yourself. We must strive to leave our watersheds in the best shape possible for future generations, and not leave them on the hook for millions of dollars of long-term treatment necessary to keep our water clean and safe from heavy metal pollution. It’s just the right thing to do.
We should expect other states to enact similar laws (some are working on it). Looking ahead, the next step is to bring reform to the federal level. Representative Raul Grijalva and Senator Tom Udall have introduced long-overdue legislation to reform the 1872 Mining Law, which has been giving away federal minerals for free to national and global corporations since – you guessed it – 1872!
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