Energy Committee Advances Udall-Heinrich Bill To Prioritize Uranium Mine Cleanup

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sens. Tom Udalland Martin Heinrich reported today that their legislation to help New Mexico complete high priority uranium mine cleanup projects has cleared the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Their bill, S. 222, would amend federal law to give states and tribes the ability to apply existing funds for coal-related cleanup efforts to non-coal mine reclamation, including hundreds of abandoned uranium mines throughout New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. 

"This is a commonsense, bipartisan measure to assist states like New Mexico, which has more abandoned uranium mine sites to cleanup than coal-related reclamation," said Udall. "I'm pleased the committee recognizes the need to give states and tribes more flexibility to apply their cleanup dollars and I hope this measure advances quickly to the floor."

“Throughout history, New Mexico has made major contributions to our country’s national security and energy needs, including communities across the state that were central to the mining and processing of uranium. But we’ve neglected our duty to these communities to clean up the mess that was left behind,” said Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “This legislation would provide much needed resources for tribes and states to clean up abandoned uranium mines and would be a significant step forward in keeping New Mexico’s families healthy and safe. I’m pleased with the progress we made today in committee and am eager to get this bill signed into law.”

The Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund was created as part of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) and requires fees to be paid on local coal production for state and tribal mine reclamation. Current law limits state and tribal use of certain allocations from the fund to coal-related cleanup. Udall and Heinrich's legislation would allow states to dedicate all AML allocations for both coal and non-coal mine reclamation.

The legislation would also allow all AML funds to be used to seal tunnels and entryways of coal and non-coal mines, as well as for acid mine drainage abatement and treatment. Abandoned mines can contaminate surface and groundwater supplies, among other health, safety and environmental impacts.

For several years, the New Mexico State Legislature and several local county and community organizations have advocated for the change in federal law to better reflect the necessities of higher-priority cleanup projects.

Udall and Heinrich introduced the bill in the Senate last month. U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Steve Pearce introduced a companion measure in the House. 

The bill passed by a committee vote of 14-4 and can now be considered by the full Senate. Legislative text can be accessed here.