Bishop: Let Volunteer Groups Clean Up Mines

Rep. Rob Bishop says “Good Samaritan” charitable groups should be allowed to perform environmental cleanup jobs without the risk of being penalized by the federal government—which demonstrated its own incompetence in last year’s Gold King Mine disaster.

Writes Bishop in a Denver Post op-ed:

When a volunteer group wants to clean up polluted, abandoned mine lands, they are rewarded with hefty fines and frivolous litigation initiated by environmental special interest groups, thanks to open-ended statutes like the Clean Water Act. Under the current regulatory framework, charitable groups face liability for the water quality at abandoned mines the second they step foot on the land. In many cases, the mineral content of water near mines has never, in thousands of years, met “clean water” standards by nature. Is it practical to dis-incentivize conservation advocates from engaging in this work and punish them for trying to address a grave environmental challenge?

During a Natural Resources Committee hearing last November, the director of Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Mine Reclamation, Eric Cavazza explained, “These liabilities deter motivated, well-intentioned volunteers from undertaking projects to clean up or improve abandoned sites, thereby prolonging the harm to the environment and to the health and welfare of our citizens.”

If we’ve learned anything from the EPA’s Gold King Mine blowout near Silverton, it’s that the federal government does not have the expertise, capacity or resources to reclaim abandoned mines. The spill illustrates vividly and disastrously the consequences in allowing government ineptitude to fester in our country’s abandoned mines.

We need to empower volunteer groups with the expertise, equipment and experience to administer the clean-up. The most logical solution is to legalize Good Samaritan mine clean-up for charitable groups that can get the job done safely, competently and much more quickly than the federal government can.

Rep. Doug Lamborn’s bill, H.R. 3843, is Good Samaritan legislation that does just that by allowing volunteer groups to obtain permits to access abandoned mines without the threat of lawsuits. After completing the permit process, which requires a comprehensive plan developed with the help of a professional engineer (which, incidentally, the EPA saw no reason to subject itself to at Gold King), they will be authorized to clean mines that are currently polluting our rivers. With these licenses in hand, charities will be given limited liability protections, enabling them to reclaim mines free from the specter of litigation.