Budget a bust for mine cleanups

By Randy Scholfield

There’s no getting around a basic fact: cleaning up abandoned mines is a tough task that requires money. Time, commitment and money.

So there must be an accounting error in the just-released Trump administration budget for the EPA.

Because despite Secretary Scott Pruitt declaring that cleaning up toxic pollution would be a top priority of the EPA, the administration’s budget slashes funding for Superfund—the main EPA program for cleaning up old, leaching mines and other toxic sites—by $330 million, a whopping 30 percent of its nearly $1.1 billion budget.

This at a time when Superfund budget has already been deeply cut—to about half of what it was in the 1990s.

Moreover, the proposed budget completely eliminates the EPA’s Section 319 grant program, which provides funds to state projects to clean up nonpoint-source pollution such as the toxic tailings often found near mine sites.

“The 319 program not only has been critical for leveraging important additional dollars for mine cleanups, but it also creates and maintains good jobs in local communities,” said Jason Willis, TU’s mine restoration project manager. “Without this vital source of funding, many projects that could improve fisheries as well as water quality for local communities will grind to a halt.”

Overall, the Trump budget proposes cutting EPA by 30 percent—a devastating and demoralizing blow for an EPA staff already understaffed and overwhelmed.

Budgets reveal a lot about priorities. And this is not the budget of an administration that’s serious about tackling the nation’s toxic mine cleanups or ensuring clean water and rivers for our communities and families.

EPA estimates that there are some 500,000 abandoned mines in the West, contaminating 40 percent of headwater streams.

“With federal help, Colorado has made remarkable progress in recent years cleaning up the Arkansas River and other waterways impacted by abandoned mine runoff,” said Ty Churchwell, San Juan Mountains Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “By slashing the EPA’s budget and staff, the Trump administration is severely undercutting efforts in in the West to clean up these abandoned mines and keep our rivers and streams healthy. It’s shortsighted and irresponsible, both from an economic and environmental standpoint.”

TU will be following the budget process and is counting on Congress to provide some common sense and balanced priorities for addressing our nation’s toxic pollution problems.

As anglers and sportsmen, we’ll be watching closely, because this hits us where we live.

To speak up, go to TU's Action Center and tell the administration you support strong funding for conservation programs.

Randy Scholfield is TU’s director of communications for the Southwest.



said on Friday, May 26th, 2017

I do not see on the "Action Center" where we can let the admin know that I wnat them to stand up to the cuts and keep the funding available for these poison sites across America.

said on Thursday, June 1st, 2017
The updated link at end of story will take you to the Action Center page for supporting conservation programs in the budget.
said on Friday, June 2nd, 2017

My question is, why is the tax payers footing the bill and not the mines themself? If it's laws that need to change for this to happen, then that's where the interest should be.


said on Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

I would like to point out that most mines are on Federal lands, abandoned by the minining companies who under the 1872 mining law left the Federal Government and the Federal land managing agencies under the Departments of Interior, and Agriculture(Forest Service) "holding the bag"  or financial responsibility  to clean up all these toxic wastes.  In essence you have the EPA using taxpayer dollars to clean up heavy metals, coal(acid mine wastes), and nuclear mining wastes, while at the same time holding the Federal land managing agencies accountable for expending millions if not billions more of taxpayer dollars on cleanup of these sites as well. 

The 1872 Mining law has in the past, and continues to escape all efforts to repeal it and make the mining companies accountable for clean-up of all their environmental wastes.


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