Enviros Urge Funding for Abandoned Mine Cleanup

Letter sent to Congress requests $5 billion in future recovery legislation for jobs in rural communities

Washington, D.C. – Today Earthworks and 30 other environmental organizations sent a letter to House and Senate leadership calling for future recovery legislation to include funding for the hardrock Abandoned Mine Land (AML) reclamation program. Such funding would create jobs for out-of-work miners as well as frontline communities.

“Comprehensive and meaningful 1872 Mining Law reform, such as that proposed by Representative Grijalva, is the only way to truly address the long term issues of abandoned hardrock mines,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ Policy Director. “But in these trying times, we must focus on the immediate needs of workers and their families.”

Stimulus funds could put mine workers to work immediately, cleaning up the approximately 500,000 abandoned mines that litter the West. The 1872 law does not charge a fee for abandoned mine cleanup, the cost of which often falls to taxpayers. The EPA estimates the backlog of cleanup costs for these mines at $20-$54 billion — vastly more than the entire annual Superfund budget.

“An influx of hardrock AML funds will not only create jobs, it will also help restore polluted landscapes, putting degraded lands into productive use and granting relief to communities currently shackled with excessive costs for water treatment of pollution from abandoned mines,” the letter states.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of the headwaters of western U.S. watersheds have been polluted by mining. EPA also reports the mining industry is the nation’s largest toxic polluter. The Associated Press has reported that every day hard-rock mines collectively produce around 50 million gallons of contaminated waters, threatening water supplies of downstream communities.

Last year, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) introduced the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019. The legislation would replace the 1872 General Mining Law, which still governs mining for gold, copper, uranium and other hardrock minerals on publicly owned lands managed by the federal government. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a similar reform bill in the upper chamber.

The full letter can be found here.