Initiative Seeks To Offer Protections To Accelerate Watershed Cleanups

On Aug. 30, EPA announced a program under which the agency and partners will promote greater collaboration to accelerate restoration of watersheds and fisheries threatened by abandoned mine runoff. Acid mine drainage contaminates thousands of miles of waterways and poses serious risks to human health and the ecology.

The "Good Samaritan" initiative seeks to encourage more voluntary cleanups to address the threats posed by the nation's estimated 500,000 abandoned mines -- and to protect the "Good Samaritan" against pre-existing liabilities.

"Many of these problematic abandoned mines are on private land and those responsible for the pollution are long since gone," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. "While there have been groups and local communities willing to take on the restoration of these watersheds, the potential liability of touching the sites have long discouraged voluntary cleanup efforts."

Acid runoff from abandoned mines is responsible for polluting thousands of miles of streams and rivers as well as groundwater. This degradation poses serious risks to human health, wildlife, and ecological systems. The contamination can also adversely affect local economies, particularly where it threatens drinking and agricultural water supplies, increases water treatment costs, and limits fishing and other popular recreational pursuits.

Due to the large number of abandoned mines and the complex nature of the degradation, remediation can be resource intensive. Also, potential liability under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA -- also known as Superfund) can discourage certain voluntary remediation activities.

Johnson said that he hopes the Good Samaritan Initiative will be a springboard for future successes, such as we have seen from the brownfields program. "But unlike a brownfield, these groups are not looking to purchase the property or profit from their efforts -- they just want to practice voluntary stewardship that protects our shared environment," Johnson said.

Additional information on the "Good Samaritan" initiative can be found at http://www.epa.gov/water/goodsamaritan.

For more information on acid mine drainage, go to http://www.epa.gov/maia/html/AMD_issue.html.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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