The Associated Press recently reported that over 50 million gallons of polluted water flows from contaminated mining sites in the United States and into surrounding streams and ponds, and that water is untreated. The tainted water has lead, arsenic, and other toxic metals in it and poisons aquatic life and drinking water in at least nine states including Colorado, California, and Oklahoma.
Looking Back: Gold King Mine Spill
You may remember the Gold King Mine spill in Silverton, Colorado in August 2015, which made news for several reasons including the fact that it was a massive spill and it was due to a mistake made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
After the spill in Silverton, the federal government came under fire from three states, many individuals, and other entities who were awaiting payment for damages incurred when an EPA-led contractor crew doing excavation at the entrance to the mine accidentally allowed three million gallons of wastewater to spill out into the mine.
Over 500 tons of metals (mainly aluminum and iron) polluted water from the Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico rivers. That spill resulted in $318 million in claims from farmers, rafting companies, fishing guides, and homeowners who were affected by the massive spill. Local, state, and tribal entities claimed losses, also. Now, three and a half years after the Gold King Mine spill, the federal government still has not repaid any of the victims for the millions of dollars in economic damage they claimed.
What the AP Report Shows
The Associated Press AP examined 43 mining sites that are under federal oversight, with some containing several dozen or hundreds of individual mines. The mine records show that at average flows, over 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater flows daily from those sites. More often than not, the water runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers, and ponds.
According to the report, “The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement.” The AP points out that the amount of contaminated groundwater with these mines far exceeds the Gold King Mine spill in 2015.
Who Pays for Mine Cleanup?
The federal “Superfund” cleanup program, which, under Donald Trump has faced massive cuts, has been enlisted to help some of these mines for the past several decades, and many environmental groups fear that disasters like the one at Gold King Mine in Colorado could happen at any one of these mines.
One of the many unanswered questions regarding mine cleanups is who foots the bill? The Trump administration announced at the end of 2017 that it would not require mining companies to prove they have the financial means to clean up their own pollution, despite the large number of mines that have tainted the water of millions of Americans.
The country’s mining industry, unfortunately, has a long history of abandoning contaminated sites and leaving taxpayers to pay for the cleanup. To date, the EPA has spent an estimated $4 billion on mining cleanups. One former EPA assistant administrator said, “More money is needed to address mining pollution on a systematic basis, rather than jumping from one emergency response to another.”
With over 50 million gallons of tainted water reaching American taps each day, isn’t it time to put plans in place to ensure these mines are cleaned up thoroughly and in a timely manner?