Good Samaritan protection rules introduced by House GOP

October 30, 2015

The so called “Good Samaritan” rules that would allow private companies and nonprofit organizations to help clean up abandoned mines in the United States with protections from being held liable for environmental accidents were revived by Republicans this week.

The House Natural Resources Committee introduced three proposals in the wake of the wastewater spill at the Gold King Mine in Colorado in August. In addition to the legislation reviving the Good Samaritan rules, the committee introduced a bill that would allow the Bureau of Land Management and nonprofits to solicit donations to clean up abandoned mines and oil and gas wells. The BLM oversees more than 380,000 square miles of federal land. The third bill would funnel more money toward training mining engineers as the current generation nears retirement, The Associated Press reported.

An EPA-led contractor crew accidentally triggered the spill at the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while trying to drain water backed up inside. The crew was trying to insert a drainage pipe through debris blocking the mine but didn’t measure the water depth first, according to a review by the Interior Department.

Republicans have been among most vocal in criticizing the EPA for the spill, but none of the bills introduced appeared to directly target the agency or limit its authority to clean up abandoned mines.

“The idea is EPA is still involved,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the committee. “The magnitude of the scale is simply overwhelming, and they cannot handle it. They need help.”

The EPA said it does not comment on pending legislation.

Similar legislation previously introduced by both Republicans and Democrats has failed. Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, sponsor of the new measure, said that’s because either environmentalists or the industry didn’t like the bills.

He said the Obama administration might block his bill, until a new president takes over in 2017. But without liability protection, “no one in their right mind” would attempt a cleanup, he said.

Lamborn and Bishop said the bill will not offer protection for deliberate or negligent acts or cover companies that caused the environmental damage in the first place.

None of the bills provides compensation for rafting companies, farmers or others who lost money because of the spill, which released pollution into the Animas and San Juan rivers and sent an eerie mustard yellow plume downstream.

Bishop said he wants to see a compensation fund, but that will require cooperation from other committees.

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