On Spill Anniversary, Why There’s No Legislative Fix For Abandoned Mines

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Photo: Gold King Mine Entrance Aug 13 Aerial (AP)
Wastewater flows down a trough, right, from the site of the blowout at the Gold King mine in August 2015.

The Animas River in Southwest Colorado turned a milky yellow when, one year ago today, it was contaminated with mercury and arsenic released from the abandoned Gold King Mine. A crew hired by the EPA to clean up the mine accidentally triggered the spill. Work at that site continues, and it may extend to dozens of mines in the area, but that would still leave thousands of abandoned hard-rock mines in the West that have the potential to pollute waterways.

Photo: Map of inactive hardrock mines in Colorado as of August 2016
Inactive hardrock mines in Colorado, mapped by Colorado's Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, as of Aug. 2, 2016.

Efforts to find money and a plan to clean up the mines have failed for decades and current proposals under consideration in Congress recycle some of the same failed ideas, according to Doug Young, senior policy director at the Keystone Policy Center in Colorado. Under Young's leadership, the center is convening representatives of industry groups, environmentalists, watershed groups, Congressional offices and engineers to develop an alternative proposal. Young has worked on the issue for governors Roy Romer and John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall.

Young spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel.