House-passed legislation could make it easier for contracting firms and “good Samaritans” to clean up abandoned hard-rock and coal mines as well as sites of orphan oil and gas wells.
The legislation, part of a package of three bills targeted to reduce existing roadblocks to reclaiming abandoned mine lands, is a direct response to the Gold King Mine spill, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said in a statement shortly after the July 5 vote. The August 2015 Gold King spill in Colorado released 3 million gallons of mine waste into the Animas River and drew national attention to the potential dangers of orphan mines.
The bill, approved by a voice vote, would establish a new foundation to assist federal land-management agencies, state agencies and nonprofits to raise funds for cleanups of abandoned mine.
Terry Braun—practice leader for the Denver office of SRK Consulting, which has a mining division—says more funds for mine cleanups might present more opportunities for smaller engineering firms and contractors. “Most of these projects are well suited to the local contractor and engineer who can mobilize to these sites, conduct the necessary assessment and implement a remedy,” he says.
A companion draft has been circulated, but not yet introduced, in the Senate, and some policy observers are skeptical that the bills could reach the president’s desk in this condensed legislative year. Aaron Mintzes, policy advocate for Earthworks, says, “I’d be quite surprised if something passed this year, mainly because of the calendar.” Although Earthworks supports the cleanup of abandoned mines, the environmental group would prefer a polluter-pays fee, as opposed to requiring taxpayers to foot the bill, he adds.