"These abandoned mines will continue to threaten communities, waterways, and wildlife until Congress modernizes the General Mining Act of 1872."
As communities, tribes, and government agencies respond to the unfolding disaster of three million gallons of gold mine pollution fouling the Animas and San Juan Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, the National Wildlife Federation is urging the public to keep an eye on the big picture – the ongoing threats to our waterways, wildlife and human health from hundreds of thousands of old and abandoned hard-rock mines nationwide and the lack of a national clean-up program to address them.
Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, made the following statement Tuesday:
"The National Wildlife Federation stands with the communities suffering from this disaster in the heart of some of our country’s most stunning fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation areas. The Department of Interior estimates there are more than 500,000 abandoned hard rock mines across America, many containing toxic waste that has fouled waterways, like tributaries of the Animas River, for decades.
"These abandoned mines will continue to threaten communities, waterways, and wildlife until Congress modernizes the General Mining Act of 1872, our federal mining law that’s remained largely unchanged since Ulysses S. Grant was president. It’s pretty standard in business that if you break something, you pay for it and other industries, including coal and oil, are expected clean up their own messes, but there’s no equivalent program for the hard-rock mining industry to protect communities and taxpayers from disasters like this one.
"When Congress returns to work, we urge our elected officials to focus on reforming these outdated, insufficient protections. Until they do, our communities and treasured wildlife will remain at risk."
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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.