Mining Executive Calls on Congress to Spur Voluntary Clean Up of Abandoned Mines

Washington, D.C. – A U.S. mining executive today told Congress that cleaning up mines abandoned in the past century must begin with new legal protections for good Samaritans willing to volunteer their expertise and resources to address the problem.

Testifying on behalf of the National Mining Association (NMA), Luke Russell, vice president of External Affairs for Hecla Mining Company, said that Good Samaritan legislation holds the key to progress in remediating thousands of mines abandoned before the advent of modern environmental laws and regulations.

At a hearing before the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Russell emphasized that modern mining uses state-of-art technologies and operates under a regulatory framework bearing no resemblance to industry practices that prevailed in mining’s pioneering days when most mines were simply abandoned without any requirement to financially ensure proper closure. NMA and its member companies have long been interested in promoting the voluntary clean-up of legacy mines.

“Mining companies must be allowed to qualify as good Samaritans,” said Russell. “We have the resources, know-how and technology to properly assess environmental dangers posed by legacy sites and to efficiently remediate such sites.” Unfortunately, current federal environmental laws discourage companies and other volunteers from undertaking remediation efforts due to the significant threat of legal liability.

By removing this impediment with Good Samaritan legislation, said Russell, Congress can spur important voluntary clean-up efforts. It is imperative that Good Samaritan legislation not sacrifice the good for the perfect; the environment will benefit if we allow projects to move forward. This can be done, he said, if we give EPA or the states the authority to approve Good Samaritan projects under site-specific permits that can waive compliance with specific standards as long as “net improvements are achieved.”