Bill to Promote Restoration of Abandoned Mines Receives Senate Hearing

  • This past Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a legislative hearing on the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2022 (S. 3571), a bill strongly supported by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF).
  • This bipartisan CSF priority seeks to provide liability protections to states, non-governmental organizations, and other entities acting as “Good Samaritans” who seek to clean up and restore abandoned hardrock mine sites.
  • Currently, Good Samaritans assume liability as soon as they touch a mine site, even if they were not the original polluters.

Why It Matters: There is estimated to be approximately 500,000 abandoned mines across the United States that contribute to water quality impairments in over 100,000 miles of streams. These streams and mine sites are critical to forest health, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat. Estimates also indicate that cleaning up these abandoned mines would cost more than $50 billion. S. 3571 seeks to provide liability protections to “Good Samaritans” to promote restoration of abandoned mine sites.

Last Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee considered the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2022, a CSF priority bill that seeks to promote public-private partnerships to help restore the approximate 500,000 abandoned mine sites across the country. Prior to the hearing, CSF submitted a letter to the Committee urging their support for this legislation and encouraging the Committee to expedite this bill through the legislative process.

S. 3571 is led by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Senator Martin Heinrich (NM) and CSC Member Senator Jim Risch (ID) to provide liability protections for individuals and entities that seek to conduct a restoration project on an abandoned mine site. Under current federal law, Good Samaritans who seek to conduct a restoration project on an abandoned mine site are legally responsible for pollution stemming from the mine as soon as they touch the site, even if they had no prior relationship or involvement with the previous mining activity – significantly disincentive remediation activities.

To address this barrier, the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act would create a pilot program to permit up to 15 Good Samaritan abandoned mine cleanup projects. The legislation requires that a pilot project must pose a low risk to the environment to prevent potential increased pollution. However, to ensure that restoration remains the goal of the program, the bill ensures that mining activities are strictly prohibited and that any uncorrected permit violation leading to worsening mine conditions will result in the loss of liability protections.

CSF will continue to work with Senators Heinrich and Risch and the Environment and Public Works Committee to advance this common-sense solution to mine pollution.

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