Heinrich, Risch Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Remove Hurdles For Good Samaritans To Clean Up Abandoned Hardrock Mines

WASHINGTON (Feb. 3, 2022) - U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced the bipartisan Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act, legislation to make it easier for “Good Samaritans” such as state agencies, local governments, nonprofits, and other groups, to clean up and improve water quality in and around abandoned hardrock mines.

“Abandoned mines across the West are leaking toxic metals that threaten our land, water, fish and wildlife—and the communities that depend on them,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Risch to create a path for Good Samaritan groups to clean up these sites and create good-paying jobs in New Mexico and across the country.”

“There’s real motivation among the mining industry and conservation community to remedy the environmental challenges created by long-abandoned mines. Unfortunately, meaningful action has been heavily discouraged due to the significant liability risk,” said Risch. “Good Samaritans who are willing take it upon themselves to remediate the damage left behind at abandoned mines should be helped, not hindered. This legislation will allow this important work to go unimpeded so responsible mining can remain a key part of Idaho’s legacy and future.”

The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). 

“My bipartisan bill will help remove obstacles to abandoned mine clean up in Montana,” said Daines. “Cutting burdensome red tape and shielding Good Samaritan organizations from liability will increase the pace and scale of reclamation and in turn, support rural Montana communities, create jobs and restore and enhance our environment.”

“There are thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado and across the West that are a constant source of pollution and threat to our watersheds," said Bennet. "Our Good Samaritan legislation will encourage states, local governments, nonprofits, and corporations to clean up these old abandoned mines, helping to reduce pollution and improve water quality. This bill is a product of the hard work and collaboration of people across the West, and I look forward to working together to tackle this important issue."

The U.S. has over 140,000 abandoned hardrock mine features, of which 22,500 pose environmental hazards according to the GAO. Organizations that have no legal or financial responsibility to an abandoned mine – true Good Samaritans – want to volunteer to remediate some of these sites. Unfortunately, liability rules would leave these Good Samaritans legally responsible for all the pre-existing pollution from a mine, even though they had no involvement with the mine prior to cleaning it up. 

The Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act creates a pilot permitting program to enable not-for-profit cleanup efforts to move forward, while ensuring Good Samaritans have the skills and resources to comply with federal oversight. This pilot program is designed for lower risk projects which will improve water and soil quality or otherwise protect human health.

Senator Heinrich championed a provision in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to establish the first-ever abandoned hardrock mine reclamation program in the Department of the Interior. By passing Good Samaritan legislation, Congress can remove hurdles that public-private partnerships face and use this program to jumpstart abandoned mine cleanups. 

The legislation has received support from Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Property and Environment Research Center, National Deer Association, National Wildlife Federation, National Mining Association, American Exploration and Mining Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Izaak Walton League of America, and the Outdoor Alliance.

Full text of the bill can be found HERE.