Note: This information is provided for reference purposes only. Although the information provided here was accurate and current when first created, it is now outdated.
Presentation to SME, March 1999
The movement to reclaim abandoned mine sites has gained momentum as
federal, state, and private organizations have increased their commitment
and resources to tackle mutual, and often controversial, problems of health
and safety. Numerous interorganizational agreements have been implemented
to promote cooperation in the characterization of mine site hazards, development
of mutually acceptable plans of remediation, and sharing of actual cleanup
requirements. Working through these partnerships, the federal land management
agencies have begun to focus on abandoned mine reclamation in selected,
priority watersheds and other drainage basins. Although there are major
difficulties to overcome, significant progress continues to be made.
Shame on those miners! What right did they have to desecrate our beautiful
land and then just walk away? Why didn't they seal their shafts and fill
in their pits? Why didn't they remove their trash?
Suffice it to say in way of explanation that those miners of yore were
operating in different times. Mine sites were remote, often almost inaccessible,
population density was low, and prospectors and miners were not constrained
generally by environmental concerns or regulations. The attention and understanding
of scientists and the public to the cause and effect of environmental hazards
was weak. The practices of the miner were, for the most part, the practices
But the American miners left their mark. They were responsible for enormous
wealth and for laying the foundation for the strongest nation in the world.
It is true that they left holes in the ground, but they also helped create
a standard of living unmatched anywhere else on the planet. In doing so,
they helped generate the wealth that provides for research and knowledge
to remediate the damage left not only by mining operations but by all of
Nevertheless, there is general agreement that some abandoned mine sites
pose significant physical and/or environmental hazards. These abandoned
mines occur on private, state, and public lands. In 1993, the Mineral Policy
Center (MPC) estimated that there are over one-half million hardrock mine
sites in the nation that are abandoned. MPC, an environmental advocacy
organization, set a price of between $32 billion and $72 billion to reclaim
what it considered the worst of these, or about 363,000 sites. By further
eliminating abandoned sites that may cause only aesthetic problems, the
number of sites that may have a physical or environmental hazard is reduced
to about 131,000 or approximately 24% of the total. Included within the
number of hazardous mine locations are about 15,000 sites that may, according
to MPC, threaten surface and ground waters or contain potentially hazardous
substances. The relatively small number of abandoned sites that may cause
environmental degradation, about 3% of the MPC total, confirms recent investigations
of state and federal agencies who have found that most hardrock AML sites
pose little or no problem and that very few have an environmental risk.
In a 1998 report, the Western Governors' Association (WGA) tabulated
estimates of abandoned mine sites in each western state but was reluctant
to give a total for all the states in the West. WGA believes the figure,
though undoubtedly large, may be misleading because of the judgmental differences
between investigators in what constitutes a site. An area containing three
abandoned mine shafts, for example, may be considered to have three sites
or may be counted simply as one site containing three features. It should
be emphasized, however, that regardless of how the abandoned sites are
counted, more than 80% of them present neither environmental nor immediate
public safety concerns.
Well, how did this effort to reclaim abandoned mine sites begin? We
can point to the late Mr. Morris Udall, the Congressional Representative
from Arizona, as one of the strongest proponents of mine land cleanup in
general and as one of the champions of coal mine reclamation in particular.
His sponsorship of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977
(SMCRA) was responsible for the establishment of a federal mechanism to
encourage states to remediate hazardous conditions caused by abandoned
Coal mine sites abandoned before 1977 may be reclaimed under the provisions
of Title IV of SMCRA. Taxes on currently mined coal are redistributed to
states and Indian tribes for the reclamation of abandoned coal mines and
associated waters. After a state has completed this phase of reclamation,
it can use these funds to conduct remediation of safety and environmental
hazards at abandoned hardrock and non-coal mine sites. A national coalition
of states and tribes, in cooperation especially with the Department of
the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM),
has grown out of SMCRA and has been very effective in promoting good reclamation
science and engineering and publicizing the many successes that have occurred
in that abandoned mine lands (AML) program. This coalition, the National
Association of AML Programs, is led by state agencies and is a major player
in the remediation of all types of abandoned mine sites throughout the
Other federal laws that influence the cleanup of AML sites include the
Federal Water Pollution Control Act, also known as the Clean Water Act
(CWA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability
Act (CERCLA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal
Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and the National Forest Management
Act. Probably the most important of these acts in terms of AML cleanup
are CERCLA and CWA.
CERCLA, aka Superfund, allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
and other federal agencies to investigate and clean up releases and threatened
releases of hazardous substances or to require responsible parties to do
the same. Land management agencies actively employ the provisions of CERCLA
to reclaim abandoned mine sites. Additionally, the EPA administers proposed
or ongoing cleanup at 61 mining-related sites that are on the National
Priorities List (NPL). Remediation of the hazardous environmental conditions
at these NPL sites is expected to cost ultimately between $15 billion and
$20 billion. Due to a variety of inherent stipulations and disincentives,
use of the CWA has not been very helpful or effective in the remediation
of abandoned mine sites.
Recent attempts, beginning with President Clinton's Clean Water Initiative
in 1994, have begun to focus environmental remediation on the nation's
watersheds. The concept behind this approach was to unify all stakeholders
in the identification, prioritization, and cleanup of important drinking
water supplies, fisheries, and wildlife habitat. Acting on this initiative,
the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and the Interior (DOI) petitioned
the EPA for its support in generating and implementing a program to remediate
water quality problems caused by abandoned mines on lands administered
by the federal government. Up to this point, reclamation of abandoned mine
sites was conducted on a site-by-site basis, with no coordinated national
In 1995, the Interdepartmental AML Watershed Cleanup Initiative was
born. This initiative, cooperatively promoted by the USDA, DOI, and EPA,
was composed of several federal land management and science agencies including
the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Geological
Survey, and now defunct Bureau of Mines. Together, they developed a coordinated
strategy for the cleanup of environmental contamination from abandoned
hardrock mine sites associated with federal lands. The strategy was based
on a watershed approach to characterize and remediate contamination. The
cleanup program would address watersheds identified by states that are
most at risk for environmental degradation from AML. Although fraught with
difficulties, the hope has always been to treat those mining-related sites
in a watershed that have the most profound effect on water and ecological
There are other AML initiatives as well. The Eastern Acid Mine Drainage
Federal Consortium, organized in 1993 by EPA officials and fellow professionals
in state and federal agencies, actively encourages research and remediation
primarily of abandoned coal mines in the eastern states. The Consortium's
emphasis is on cleanup of mine sites in selected watersheds. Other federally
initiated attempts to clean targeted watersheds and their associated abandoned
mines include, for example, the Appalachian Clean Streams Initiative (1995)
and the DOI-sponsored Western Mine Restoration Partnership (1996).
Reflecting industry's concern over the AML problem, the National Mining
Association (NMA) recently signed agreements with the WGA and with the
Department of Energy. The 1997 agreement between NMA and the WGA launched
the Abandoned Mine Land Initiative. The overall goal of the Initiative
is to increase public and private investment in remediation, consolidating
financial resources and technological expertise to promote actual cleanup.
It will develop a method to report annually the number of high-priority
sites and to identify, measure and report on progress of current cleanup
programs. It will also create a mechanism to identify and remove legislative
and/or regulatory obstacles to such cleanup and provide incentives for
The NMA agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE), signed in 1998,
provides a framework for DOE and the mining industry to pursue a research
partnership that addresses typical issues common to mineral exploration
and development, including the environment, health and safety. A part of
the research coordinated and conducted by DOE's Federal Energy Technology
Center will focus on the discovery and improvement of technologies designed
to remediate environmental hazards at abandoned mines.
Attempting, in part, to tie all of these initiatives together and to
re-emphasize the importance given to the nation's watersheds, the Administration
initiated its Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP) in late 1997. CWAP directs
the federal community to manage federal lands on a priority watershed basis
and to work cooperatively with states and Indian tribes in determining
selected watersheds where improvement and protection programs will be focused.
This plan is comprehensive and far-reaching. If fully funded and implemented,
CWAP will have enormous impact on streams, other water bodies, riparian
habitats, and coastal areas.
In effect, CWAP asks the states and Indian tribes to identify those
watersheds within their boundaries that are most impaired and directs all
federal agencies that have a management or scientific interest in the watersheds
to work jointly in their cleanup and restoration. For its first year of
implementation, the 1999 fiscal year (FY), the President submitted a budget
of $568 million. Although Congress did not fund the plan in its entirety,
it did approve on an agency-by-agency basis certain CWAP activities and
allow for their funding from some new allocations or by reprogramming dollars
from each agency's total budget. In FY-99, for example, the Forest Service
is directing the expenditure of $42.3 million toward CWAP projects.
Out of the 111 action items recommended by CWAP, four items specifically
address remedial efforts related to mining. These are briefly described
by action item number as follows: (29) Beginning in 1999, add three to
five watersheds or major mine cleanup actions to the Interdepartmental
AML Watershed program each year through 2005; (30) By 1999, federal land
management agencies and EPA will forge a partnership, consistent with CWAP
and building on an existing Interagency Agreement, to help resolve issues
and enhance review, planning, and operations for active mining operations;
(31) By 2000, the OSM in cooperation with EPA and land management agencies,
will increase by 50% the number of cooperative projects to clean up rivers
and streams polluted by coal mine drainage; and (32) EPA will revise effluent
guidelines to better address coal mining in arid western areas and will
develop new effluent guidelines to address coal remining operations.
Through FY-98, the SMCRA AML fund has received $5.1 billion in taxes
on coal production and Congress has allocated $3.7 billion from the fund
to the states and tribes. The receiving entities, in turn, have leveraged
these monies by forming partnerships with federal and private interests
and have reclaimed over 5,600 problem areas and more than 180,000 acres
at an estimated total cost of $1.6 billion. Under this program, safety
and environmental problems at an additional 420 hardrock areas have been
or are being abated or remediated at a cost to date of $163 million.
In FY-99, SMCRA grants totaling $145,252,000 have been distributed to
26 states and tribes for traditional AML cleanup and the Appalachian Clean
Streams program. Fee collections are currently authorized until the end
of fiscal year 2004, and at this time there is about $1.4 billion in the
fund carried over from previous years.
During the mid-1990s, the federal land management agencies began a concerted
effort to create an inventory of abandoned and inactive hardrock mines
and to characterize and prioritize the sites according to potential or
real hazardous conditions. The U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) and certain
state agencies played a major role in establishing acceptable scientific
procedures for identifying and evaluating safety and environmental hazards
at the sites. By the end of 1995, the Forest Service estimated that there
were approximately 34,494 sites on National Forest System lands. Of this
number, an estimated 1,728 (5%) would require cleanup under CERCLA provisions
and about 4,141 (12%) would require cleanup of non-CERCLA water quality
problems. These figures will be refined as soon as a final compilation
of the nationwide inventory and preliminary site evaluation is completed.
A rough estimate of the number of abandoned mines that have one or more
physical safety hazards is 20% of the total or approximately 7,000 to 8,000
In 1996, the states and the Interdepartmental AML Watershed Cleanup
task force identified two top-priority watersheds for remediation of environmental
impacts associated with abandoned mine sites. Pilot reclamation programs
were begun in the upper Animas River watershed near Silverton, southwestern
Colorado, and in the Boulder River watershed near the town of Basin, about
25 miles south of Helena, in western Montana. Selection of these watersheds
was based on known impairment of the water quality, metal loading, geologic
conditions, and recognition of ongoing remediation activities.
Metal mining in both the upper Animas and Boulder watersheds dates from
the late 1800s with production primarily in gold, silver, lead, and zinc.
Sulfide ore deposits are responsible for acidic waters in both drainages,
and waste dumps and tailings contribute erosional materials to the streams.
Although much of the mining occurred on what is now privately-owned (patented)
ground, some of the abandoned mine, mill, smelter, and waste storage sites
are on land administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management
Gradually, the strong commitment of the federal task force to build
an effective alliance with state, public, and private interests that have
a stake in the quality of these two watersheds has begun to produce positive
results. In FY-97, Congress allocated $1 million to the BLM for work in
the Animas and Boulder watersheds. In FY-98, BLM's allocation increased
to $3 million and, for the first time, the Forest Service received $4.6
million. That same year, the Cottonwood Wash watershed, near Moab in southeastern
Utah, was chosen as the third top-priority drainage area for remediation.
Stakeholder groups have been formed for each watershed to characterize
pollution, identify problems, brainstorm solutions, and guide cleanup activities.
In FY-99, the Forest Service received $4.7 million and BLM's allocation
jumped to $10 million. This money is for work in the three selected watersheds
and for program development in collaboration with other Interdepartmental
AML Watershed Cleanup partners, states, and stakeholders.
Investigations in the watersheds involve careful sampling of surface
and ground waters, adit discharges, surface runoff, mine wastes, and surrounding
rock to properly locate and characterize the source and extent of pollutants.
Biological assessments, including bat and other species habitat determinations,
are conducted. In addition, engineering cost estimates of reclamation and
searches and assessments of parties potentially responsible for cleanup
The upper reaches of the Animas watershed are strongly mineralized and
have been intensely mined. Surface waters are severely degraded with elevated
levels of zinc, cadmium, copper, aluminum, iron, and other heavy metals.
Building on the identification and characterization of several high-priority
mine sites by the USBM, additional detailed characterization is now being
conducted by the State of Colorado, BLM, Forest Service, and the U.S. Geological
To date, actual reclamation planning and activity have been concentrated
on just a few selected abandoned mines. For example, at the Forest Queen
Mine, the BLM has led efforts to remove mine wastes containing metal sulfides
and relocate them in a safe storage area away from the watershed. Construction
of an anaerobic system at the mine site is underway to treat acidic, heavy-metal
discharge from a collapsed adit. At the Lackawanna site, mill tailings
will be removed to an engineered landfill and the surface will be restored
to a wetland area. At other sites, acid mine drainage will be diverted
away from mine wastes to avoid transport of contaminating metals into the
streams of the upper Animas watershed. At the Bandora, Bonner, Brooklyn,
and Paradise mines, the Forest Service is considering various hydrologic
controls and capping of the waste rock. These projects and numerous others
are being coordinated by an on-scene supervisor funded jointly by the BLM
and the Forest Service. During FY-99, these two agencies plan to spend
approximately $1.7 million on reclamation of abandoned mine sites in the
Like the upper Animas, several tributaries in the Boulder watershed
flow through intensely mineralized and mined terrain. Degraded waters affect
a trout fishery in the Boulder River and the water supply of the town of
Basin. Metals that contribute to the degradation of the water quality include
arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, manganese, and zinc. Definitive characterization
of priority mine sites is being conducted by the State of Montana, USGS,
and the federal land management agencies.
Sites presently receiving the most attention by the Forest Service are
the Buckeye/Enterprise and Crystal/Bullion mine-mill complexes in Basin
and Cataract creeks, tributaries to Boulder River. Plans are underway to
remove mine wastes at these sites and develop appropriate transportation
procedures. The BLM will remove waste-rock piles from the Redwing and Waldy
mine sites that occur on a tributary to Cataract Creek and from waste dumps
on the banks of High Ore Creek, another tributary to Boulder River. A removal
action at the Comet Mine, considered one of the worst sites in Montana,
is being conducted by the State. All parties are working together to locate
a central repository where mine wastes can be deposited. The Forest Service
and BLM, together, expect to spend about $1.8 million during FY-99 in the
Utah's Cottonwood Wash was selected by the State and the federal Interdepartmental
task force because of the presence of high levels of radioactive minerals
in the water and sediments of the watershed. Numerous abandoned uranium
and vanadium mines contribute acidic discharges and sediment loading to
the drainage area.
Significant progress was made during FY-98 on the cleanup program in
the Cottonwood Wash watershed. Stakeholders were contacted and agreements
between the federal land management agencies and the State were drafted
and/or signed. Completed during the year were a mine waste characterization
study, bat inventory, and radon emission study. The USGS and Utah implemented
programs to conduct ground water quality tests and monitoring. Work begun
on two mine sites included the development of a reclamation plan and completion
of the first phase of construction at the Avalanchie 13 Mine, and completion
of an engineering evaluation and cost analysis of cleanup proposed for
the King Edward Mine.
During FY-99, reclamation at the Avalanchie 13 and King Edward mines
should be completed and monitoring begun. Emphasis will be given to restoration
of other abandoned mine sites, recontouring and revegetating sites and
roads, and stabilizing stream crossings. Approximately $1.3 million will
be devoted by the federal land management agencies in FY-99 to cleanup
activities in the Cottonwood Wash watershed.
The balance of FY-99 funds allocated to the Forest Service and BLM will
go towards program development in other states and towards research, remediation
planning, and actual cleanup in other priority watersheds. Some studies
and work are a continuation of previous efforts. Most of the work will
be in the western states and Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Even though most stakeholders, public and private, may generally agree to the need for cleanup of abandoned mines in a selected watershed, there is often argument over the methods proposed for reclamation and the distribution of responsibilities. Disagreements emanating at both the local and national level are frequently complex and difficult to resolve. Obstacles to effective reclamation of hardrock mine sites are aptly described by Broetzman (1998).
The inherent complexity of mineral and surface title presents one of
the most difficult institutional barriers to AML reclamation. Identification
of potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at abandoned mine sites is laborious
and expensive. When found, the responsible party or current owner may not
be financially capable of funding the cleanup. Ultimately, the party held
responsible may be the state or federal government. Other discouraging
institutional factors include possible requirements for perpetual treatment
of site discharges, the threat of future liability imposed on a party that
attempts to conduct cleanup, including remining or reprocessing, and limitations
on authorities to enforce reclamation.
Technological solutions devised for the remediation of environmental
hazards at abandoned mine sites are frequently not applicable on a universal
basis. Site conditions, including climate, geochemistry, and geography
are too diverse for a one-size-fits-all technique. The need for passive
or simple, inexpensive solutions clearly exists but only limited research
is being conducted, particularly since the USBM was eliminated.
The most important regulations that effect reclamation of AML sites
are those derived from the CWA, CERCLA, and SMCRA. Undoubtedly, SMCRA has
been most effective in providing the encouragement and means to remediate
both environmental and physical hazards. The least effective appears to
be the CWA primarily because of the difficulties associated with its requirement
for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, compliance
with water quality standards and NEPA procedures, and potential liability
incurred by anyone who attempts to reclaim the site. A "Good Samaritan"
may be condemned and sued for his best of intentions.
The application, however, by federal land management agencies of CERCLA
regulations to AML cleanup may be somewhat easier than application of the
CWA. NEPA procedures are reduced and there are some incentives for the
reclamation to be done by a Good Samaritan. A major impediment to the use
of CERCLA, however, is the requirement that before cleanup occurs, a search
for PRPs must be conducted and, if found, the responsible party must conduct
the reclamation or pay for it. The PRP procedure is costly, time consuming,
and often non-productive. Some states and private interests have shown
extreme reluctance to participate in the Interdepartmental AML Watershed
Cleanup program if CERCLA is involved. Moreover, recent uncertainty in
the application of CERCLA regulations in the cleanup of abandoned coal
mines has caused confusion and threats of withdrawal by some state, private,
and federal agencies.
Until recently, financing of remediation at hardrock AML sites has been
limited. CWA funds are scarce and relatively few cleanups have been funded
by CERCLA. SMCRA funds, however, are being applied to cleanup of physical
and environmental hazards at hardrock sites by several states and tribes.
As acceptance by Congress of the Interdepartmental AML Watershed Cleanup
program grows, the federal land management agencies anticipate not only
larger funding allocations but also increased partnerships with state and
local stakeholders and an acceleration of reclamation activities.
In the United States, the future for remediation lies in the watershed.
The watershed is a readily mappable unit of land and drainage (or ground
water basin) that is easily understood by the public and its legislators.
Watersheds evoke strong emotional and scientific appeal.
The conduct of investigation, planning, implementation, and monitoring
of environmental protection and restoration will increasingly focus on
the watershed. Swept into the mix of national and community concerns over
watershed issues is the subset of mine-related issues. With the exception
of the immediate need to address particularly significant physical hazards
at abandoned or inactive mine sites, wherever they are, if mine sites are
damaging an important watershed, they will be included in a cleanup effort.
Increasingly, professionals involved in the abatement, remediation,
and reclamation of AML sites recognize that creating a complete inventory
or data base prior to initiating cleanup is unnecessary and inadvisable.
Each mine site is unique, with site-specific features, and requires individual
characterization. This fact suggests that future inventory efforts will
be conducted more often in company with the actual reclamation. Most sites
that pose serious threats to physical safety or to the environment have
been identified; attention should now be focused on these priority areas.
The federal watershed approach to reclamation of abandoned mine sites
anticipates increased benefits to water quality throughout the watershed
and to downstream users by concentrating cleanup at problem sites within
the watershed. The watershed approach identifies priority watersheds which
are impacted by abandoned mines in consultation with the states and the
EPA. This approach targets federal, state, and private cleanup activities
and funds at mine sites which significantly impact the quality of surface
and ground waters. All mixed-ownership lands within the watershed are addressed.
Partnerships between all land owners within the watershed are encouraged
in order to leverage funding and maximize cost effectiveness. Finally,
the watershed approach provides for concurrent abatement of significant
physical hazards during the environmental cleanup.
In the future, additional measures will be taken to facilitate the reclamation
of abandoned mine sites. There is growing awareness and support, for example,
of the urgent need to revamp the CWA. Because of CWA barriers and associated
citizen suits for noncompliance with water quality standards and permit
requirements, many AML cleanup projects are at a standstill. Passage of
a Good Samaritan amendment to the CWA is essential to an effective AML
Streamlining the permit process and reducing exposure of mining companies
and entrepreneurs to liability will encourage resumption of mining in historic
districts and remining of materials left at the abandoned or inactive mine
sites. The presence of economically treatable waste dumps, for example,
or residual low grade ore reserves and possible undiscovered extensions
of high grade ore in historic mining camps frequently offer excellent targets
for the minerals industry. A recent example of an opportunity lost to open
a mine and simultaneously clean up associated environmental and physical
hazards is the previously mined New World gold property, located on National
Forest System land near Yellowstone National Park.
When a proposal to mine the New World was submitted, the application
was quickly thrown into jeopardy because of a lawsuit contending that the
applicant was in violation of the CWA. Eventually, rather than allow this
historic area to be mined and reclaimed at a profit, environmental groups
and the federal government forced a $65 million taxpayer buyout that effectively
prohibited mining. This experience highlights the reluctance of mining
firms to acquire new property positions in or adjacent to historic mining
camps, thus voiding the possibility of opening a new mine and eliminating
old hazards at the same time.
Another important step in facilitating watershed reclamation, particularly
for federal authorities, will be the siting of centralized, joint waste
repositories on federally administered lands. To avoid potentially total
liability in the event of a hazardous release from a repository, under
CERCLA for example, the federal land management agency that owns the repository
will enter into an agreement with other waste depositors to share future
liability on a pro rata basis. Just such an arrangement is being pursued
aggressively by federal and state partners in the Boulder River and adjacent
watersheds of Montana.
Eventually, there may be a federal hardrock reclamation fund similar
to the AML fund established under SMCRA for coal mine remediation. Presently,
those states which have no coal production on non-Indian lands have no
dedicated source of federal funds to remediate problems at abandoned hardrock
sites. Arizona is a state, for example, that has a relatively large number
of abandoned mine sites but is at a disadvantage compared to other coal
producing states because it does not receive SMCRA or other federal money
to conduct site reclamation off tribal lands.
Raising money for a national reclamation fund by taxing hardrock miners,
however, is a prickly issue. Unlike coal operators who can generally pass
on the SMCRA assessment to the consumer, most non-coal producers operate
in a world market and have difficulty including increased taxes in their
costs and still compete internationally. The fact that domestic coal production
is a healthy, growing industry compared to the metals industry which is
on the wane, and still characterized by cyclic production, suggests that
a reclamation fund built on annual non-coal production could be complex,
quite variable from year to year, and often unreliable.
Nevertheless, there are several bills before Congress today that incorporate
an industry taxing mechanism to create and finance an "Abandoned Locatable
Minerals Mine Reclamation Fund". In House Bills HR-394 and HR-410, the
reclamation fund would be supported by holding fees on hard rock mining
claims and by royalties on associated mine production. House Bill HR-395
finances the fund through royalties collected on production from patented
mining claims. The reclamation fund, in the House bills, is to be administered
solely by a federal agency. Senate Bill S-1102, introduced in the last,
105th, Congress, provides for a reclamation fund by charging fees on unpatented
mining claims and royalties on associated production, but, unlike the House
bills, turns the collected monies over to state-run reclamation funds.
The process for reclamation of abandoned and inactive mine sites is
a multiheaded beast that has been difficult to master. It presents several
fronts, not the least of which are lack of funds and potential liability,
that must be attacked simultaneously. The cleanup effort is in the incipient
stages of coordination between the federal land managers, states, and private
industry and owners.
Inventory of abandoned mine sites on lands administered by federal agencies
is nearly complete, as is most of the site characterization and ranking
of hazards preliminary to any actual consideration of reclamation. The
Forest Service estimates that about 1,700 of its sites qualify for reclamation
under CERCLA standards and about 4,200 sites cause environmental harm under
CWA stipulations. Together, these sites may represent approximately 17%
of all the abandoned mine sites on National Forest System lands. A total
of about 8,000 sites, including many of the CERCLA and CWA sites, have
one or more physical hazards. Of the approximately 65,000 abandoned sites
under BLM's jurisdiction, the agency estimates that 5% may have CERCLA
or water quality problems and about 25% have physical safety hazards.
While certain mine sites that face remediation under Superfund provisions,
or that have critical physical safety concerns, will be addressed on a
high-priority basis outside of selected watersheds, the thrust of federal
investigation and remediation will move into watersheds that have a high
profile of interest to the states, the EPA, and to the federal land managers.
This is the approach that appears to have the most credence and most momentum.
The priority watershed approach to the remediation of a variety of environmental
problems, including abandoned mines, is thought by many to be the most
practical and viable.
Certainly, within Congress, there are adherents of the watershed approach
to the reclamation of abandoned mine sites, as witnessed by its recognition
of the Interdepartmental AML Watershed Cleanup program and steadily increased
funding of the program. Just two to three years old, in terms of financial
support, the program is still viewed by most as a suitable and evolving
test of methodologies. Progress has been slow, tedious, and frustrating.
Gradually, however, as stakeholders meet and work together to attempt reasonable
techniques and implement balanced, equitable solutions, increased success
will be gained. These efforts will be aided enormously by the continuing
support and recommendation of industry and other organizations for specific
improvements in applicable environmental laws.
Broetzman, Gary, 1998, "Barriers and Incentives to Voluntary Cleanup
of Abandoned Hardrock Mine Sites," Colorado Center for Environmental Management
for the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science and Technology, 29
Lyon, J. S., et al., 1993, "Burden of Gilt," Mineral Policy Center,
Struhsacker, D. W., and Todd, J.W., 1998, "Reclaiming Inactive and Abandoned
Hardrock Mine Lands in the West - What Really is Happening," for National
Mining Association, 38 pp.
Western Governors' Association, 1998, "Cleaning Up Abandoned Mines: A Western Partnership," 24 pp.