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For Immediate Release: February 3, 2022

Contacts: Justin Hayes, Executive Director, Idaho Conservation League, 208-345-6933 ext. 224, jhayes@idahoconservation.org

John Robison, Public Lands Director, Idaho Conservation League, 208-345-6933 ext. 213, jrobison@idahoconservation.org 

Abby Urbanek, Communications Manager, Idaho Conservation League, 208-345-6933 ext. 214, aurbanek@idahoconservation.org 

Idaho Conservation League encouraged by federal legislation to clean up abandoned mines

Idaho Senators Risch and Crapo join as original co-sponsors

Washington, D. C. – On February 3, a bipartisan bill that would help tackle problems left behind by abandoned hardrock mines was introduced in the U.S. Senate. Lead bill sponsors Senator James Risch (R-ID) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) were joined by six other senators, including Mike Crapo (R-ID) in the introduction of the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2022

The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) is pleased to see this effort to address the pollution leaking from hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines, most of which are in the West. These abandoned mines contaminate over 100,000 miles of streams with arsenic, cadmium, lead and other heavy metals that make the water unsafe for animals, humans and aquatic species. According to the Bureau of Land Management, over 5,000 abandoned mine sites have been documented in Idaho on BLM lands alone, with thousands more on national forest lands across the state. 

“Pollution flowing out of abandoned mines in Idaho impacts thousands of miles of streams, contaminating drinking and irrigation water, harming fish and wildlife and posing safety hazards to public land users,” said Justin Hayes, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League. “This bill, co-sponsored by both Idaho Senators Risch and Crapo, will provide new tools to clean up these messes, restoring water quality and fisheries. We appreciate their work and know that it will make a difference in Idaho, and across the West.” 

While progress has been made to address some abandoned mines, many other cleanup efforts have stalled because of liability concerns. The bill would waive certain liability provisions and establish clear permitting guidelines for 15 pilot projects designed to remediate and restore these sites. The Environmental Protection Agency would permit efforts on non-federal lands, while the permit process for projects on public lands would fall to the respective federal land management agency, in coordination with the EPA. This would enable qualified non-profit organizations and third parties to clean up these sites, facilitating restoration of our public lands and waters.

Hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines pose safety problems across the West. Although there have been cleanup efforts at some sites, there is much work left to do. Although no one knows the exact number of abandoned mines, the Good Samaritan cleanup bill could help put us on a path towards restoration by adding another tool in the toolbox to address this problem. 

“I have seen firsthand the numerous problems caused by abandoned mines. We encourage Representatives Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher to introduce companion legislation in the House. Clean water in our rivers and streams is in everyone’s best interest.” concluded John Robison, ICL’s public lands director.