Tester offers new mine cleanup, liability bill

E & E

by Manuel Quinones

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has introduced legislation to facilitate the cleanup of abandoned hardrock mines and ensure liability protections for states.

The bill, S. 1455, is meant to expand and revise an earlier version Tester introduced in May. It would allow states or tribes that have been certified as finished reclaiming priority abandoned coal sites, like Montana, to use money from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund for cleanup of hardrock mines.

"Montana has done good work in cleaning up our old coal mines, and is one of just a few certified states," said a statement issued by Tester's office earlier this year (E&E Daily, May 19).

The Interior Department collects a fee from coal companies to clean up abandoned mines under the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) system. Tester's bill would clarify the statute to cover hardrock mines and ensure the same liability provisions afforded to the reclamation of abandoned coal sites apply to the cleanup of old hardrock mines when federal dollars are being used.

"In order to continue restoration of the abandoned hard rock mines, we have to make sure the state has proper liability coverage to perform work on these mines," he said. "This is a common sense bill that paves the way for good-paying jobs reclaiming old mine sites."

Tester's bill has been sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has similar legislation pertaining to abandoned uranium mines (E&E Daily, May 11).

Western lawmakers have long fought to secure federal dollars for reclamation projects, a reason many oppose President Obama's effort to rework the AML program.

Earlier this year, the president proposed cuts to the AML program and a termination of mandatory payments to states and tribes that have finished restoring abandoned coal mines. As part of his 2012 budget blueprint, he is also calling for a new fee on hardrock mining to help pay for the reclamation of those mines. Neither measure has gained traction on Capitol Hill.

Click here to read the bill.