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NWF Laments Lack of Action on Old Hard-Rock Mines A Year After Major Spill

One year after mine spill, no real progress

Washington – A year after about 3 million gallons of toxic pollution at a gold mine flowed from a failed containment and fouled rivers in the Southwest, no meaningful effort has been made to address the ongoing threats to human health, waterways and wildlife from hundreds of thousands of old and abandoned hard-rock mines across the country.

The August 5, 2015 spill that turned the Animas River in Colorado and New Mexico mustard-yellow and flowed into Utah’s San Juan River focused widespread attention on the problem with old, polluting hard-rock mines and the lack of a national clean-up program, according to Jim Lyon, the National Wildlife Federation’s vice president of conservation policy.

"Here we are, a year after one of the worst hard-rock mine spills in years, and yet we’re no closer to resolving the serious, ongoing threats to major watersheds, communities and some of our most vital fish and wildlife habitat. The General Mining Act of 1872, which has changed little since Ulysses S. Grant was president, is still the law of the land. And the hard-rock mining industry is still getting by paying very little to use our public lands, nothing in federal royalties for public minerals they extract, and nowhere close in establishing a nationally funded program to clean up the legacy of hundreds of thousands of other abandoned or old mines, like the Gold King mine in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

“It’s time to bring hard-rock mining into the 21st Century and require it, as the coal industry has since 1977, to pay into a fund to clean up its historic, abandoned messes, ” Lyon added. “Meanwhile the clock is ticking toward the next old or abandoned mine incident that will tell the same old sorry story.”

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