If you want a good explanation of why it makes no sense to require every draining mine in Colorado to have a treatment plant at its base, check out the recently-posted video titled “Act of Congress: Good Samaritans and Draining Mines.”
The video was created by Biscuit Boy Productions and Tom Schillaci, a member of the Animas River Stakeholders Group–in support of Senator Mark Udall’s recently-introduced Good Samaritan legislation.
One of the best moments in the video is an explanation of how impractical it would be to put in treatment plants at the base of Colorado’s many remote abandoned mines:
Voice over: Under section 402 of the Clean Water Act, draining mines are considered to be point sources for pollution, which require an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit for any remediation projects.
Peter Butler, Animas River Stakeholders Group: And for the most part what that means is that for a draining mine, you have to have an active treatment plant. It’s just like a treatment plant that an industrial complex might have or a municipality might have, like a sewer plant. It’s the same kind of thing.
Well, in many places where you have these abandoned mines, you can’t do that. You can’t put that treatment plant in there. There’s no space. There’s no power. Often road access is pretty minimal, especially in the winter. You can’t get to it. And it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to put a treatment plant in there.
(Cut to topographical map of mountainside, with spot halfway up a steep slope circled.)
Unfortunately, if somebody does some kind of clean up on that draining mine, for example, they might put in a limestone drain just to raise the pH, which might drop out some of the heavy metals. You’re improving the water quality in the stream, but it’s not up to Clean Water Act standards.
A regulator might not necessarily want to regulate that and require that you have a point-source permit. But you could have a citizen suit which would force the regulator to issue a point-source permit.
Watch the video here: