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Copyright 2000 Federal News Service, Inc.  
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June 21, 2000, Wednesday


LENGTH: 1024 words


 Good morning. My name is Sara Kendall, and I am the Washington, D.C. Representative for the Western Organization of Resource Councils, or WORC. WORC is an association of grassroots community-based organizations in six western states -the Dakota Resource Council in North Dakota, Dakota Rural Action in South Dakota, the Idaho Rural Council, the Northern Plains Resource Council in Montana, the Powder River Basin Resource Council in Wyoming, and the Western Colorado Congress. We work primarily on environmental and family farm agriculture issues. Many of our members live and work in communities impacted by mining and abandoned mine lands.

I'd like to start by commending the Subcommittee for its interest in addressing the persistent problem of pollution from abandoned mines. Abandoned mines are one of the major sources of water pollution in western states. These sites release sediments, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals into community water supplies, are harmful to fish and wildlife, and often impact local economies.

The primary obstacles that must be addressed if these sites are to be cleaned up are the minimal efforts currently being made to track clown responsible parties and the lack of sufficient funds for remediation. But, we acknowledge that it is also important for states to stretch the funds they do have as far as possible. In addition, we recognize that, at some abandoned mine sites, it would be difficult to restore streams to the applicable water quality standards. For these masons, we support the concept at the core of Senator Baucus' Good Samaritan legislation -- reducing water quality standards and liability for third parties that want to clean up abandoned mines.

I'd like to express WORC's appreciation for changes that Senator Baucus and the Western Governors' Association made from earlier drafts of the legislation to address concerns raised by our organization and others: S. 1787 is restricted to state, tribal and municipal governments, eliminating the concern that loopholes in earlier versions might have allowed a potentially responsible party to qualify as a good samaritan. The bill's requirement that revenue generated through the use or sale of minerals be used for additional remediation alleviates the concern that it is inappropriate for a good samaritan to profit from cleaning up a site to anything less than Clean Water Act standards, but does so without going so far as to prohibit the sale of such resources and thereby shut off a potential source of additional clean up funds. The ten-year sunset leaves room for the Congress to extend the Act if it is a success, but ensures that it will automatically lapse if it is not. The more detailed requirements for an analysis of baseline conditions at the site will help good samaritans document their successes and respond if charges are made that their remediation efforts increased pollution from an abandoned site. Limiting the bill to abandoned hard rock mine sites removes questions over the need for reducing water quality standards at coal sites, where clean ups are occurring at a much higher rate than they are at hard rock sites, thanks to the coal royalty that funds an abandoned mine land clean up program.

We view all of these changes as positive developments that will enhance abandoned mine remediation and protect the interests of communities and taxpayers.

We continue to have concerns, however, with a couple of S. 1787's provisions. We remain concerned that the best efforts of the states, tribes or municipalities will not always succeed in improving water quality, and in some cases may actually result in increased pollution. S. 1787 would not hold good samaritans responsible for meeting the clean up goals they themselves set, or even to the level of pollution documented in the baseline analysis, as long as they stick to their remediation plans. We believe that if the good samaritan actually increases the pollution from the mine site, they should be held liable for returning the site to the condition documented in the baseline analysis.

It is a basic tenet of the Clean Water Act that any party must try to achieve some objective or standard for water quality. While, as I said earlier, we recognize that it would be difficult to restore streams at some abandoned mines to the applicable water quality standards, we strongly urge the incorporation of a mechanism for establishing a clear objective good samaritan remediation efforts, with input from people in the impacted communities. There are mechanisms in place today under the Clean Water Act, such as a Use Attainability Assessment (or some modification thereof), that could be used to address this concern.

Finally, the reduced water quality standards and liability waiver should only apply to mines that are truly abandoned, and not to sites that are inactive, in bankruptcy proceedings or permitted.In closing, we ask that you consider, in addition to this Good Samaritan legislation, a more comprehensive approach to the problems associated with abandoned hard rock mines in the West. Many states still need to inventory their abandoned mine sites and set priorities for clean up. Strategies need to be developed to remediate the high priority sites, including attempting to identify the parties who own the mine sites and are responsible for the pollution. Funds are needed for states, tribes or municipalities to pursue responsible parties and, when necessary, to remediate pollution problems. Without an adequate funding source, no waiver of liability will even begin to address the problem.

Although S. 1787 has the potential to facilitate the clean up of a number of abandoned mine sites, this potential is very limited because the Good Samaritan approach picks at the edges of a problem fundamentally caused by an antiquated law and outdated regulations under that law. We hope that the Subcommittee will address the concerns we've raised and move forward with S. 1787, but we urge you to make it part of a more comprehensive approach to the abandoned mine problem.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.


LOAD-DATE: June 22, 2000

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