Sens. Kelly, Lummis Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Clean Up Abandoned Uranium Mines

The bipartisan bill holds the federal government accountable to better coordinate efforts to clean up abandoned hardrock mines

Today, United States Senators Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the Legacy Mine Cleanup Act, bipartisan legislation that would cut bureaucratic red tape and hold the federal government accountable to better coordinate efforts to clean up abandoned uranium, copper, gold, and other hardrock mines which pose environmental and public health risks. 

“There are more than 500 abandoned and inactive uranium mines on the Navajo Nation and thousands of other abandoned mine sites across Arizona. The federal government needs to do more to step up and clean up abandoned mines posing threats to the health and safety of Arizona communities and our environment. Our bipartisan legislation will ensure tribal governments have the resources they need to address these contaminated mine sites and that the federal government takes seriously the health and safety challenges posed by abandoned mines across the western United States,” said Senator Kelly.

“Abandoned hardrock mines pose an environmental risk to Wyoming communities, and it’s time we take action to clean up these sites throughout the west,” said Senator Lummis. “I’m grateful to join my colleague Sen. Kelly in introducing this bipartisan legislation which would prevent groundwater contamination, erosion and acid mine drainage caused by legacy mines.”

The Government Accountability Office estimates that there are at least 140,000 abandoned hardrock mines in the United States, largely in the western United States. This includes more than 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Legacy mines can pose threats to nearby communities and the environment through acid mine drainage, erosion and sedimentation, chemical releases, and surface and groundwater contamination. While the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also called the Superfund law, creates a process for these mine sites to be cleaned up, too often bureaucratic red tape delays the cleanup of hardrock mine sites in the western United States, jeopardizing the health and safety of tribal communities throughout the western United States.

The bipartisan Legacy Mine Cleanup Act would take three key steps to better coordinate federal efforts to address abandoned hardrock mines:

Establishes the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains (OMDP) which would have three primary goals:

  • Create Accountability: OMDP will maintain an “emphasis list” of abandoned mine sites to be prioritized for superfund cleanup and regularly report on the progress made on mine site cleanups. OMDP will also assume responsibility for regularly updating the Interagency Plan to Address Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation.
  • Coordinate Stakeholders: OMDP will coordinate with EPA regional offices, federal agencies, state and local governments, and Native American tribes to promote community engagement, improve interagency coordination, and identify roadblocks to completing mine cleanups. OMDP will also provide administrative and technical assistance to state, local, and tribal stakeholders working to clean up abandoned mine sites.
  • Facilitate Cleanups: OMDP will identify agency-wide process improvements, research new technologies, and identify best practices to enable mine sites to be cleaned up faster, as well as work with conservation organizations to facilitate voluntary projects carried out to improve conditions at abandoned mines.

Provides dedicated funding to assist tribal communities with hardrock mine cleanup projects. The Legacy Mine Cleanup Act provides $100 million for OMDP to be used for:

  • Carrying out Tribal Mine Cleanup Projects: OMDP may provide funding to carry out Superfund cleanup actions at abandoned mine sites which are located on tribal land but have not yet received Superfund funding because they are not on EPA’s National Priorities List.
  • Providing Technical Assistance: OMDP may provide tribal governments and tribal organizations with funding to cover costs associated with navigating the Superfund cleanup process.

Cuts bureaucratic red tape to allow tribes to more easily receive assistance in cleaning up abandoned hardrock mines. 

Since being sworn in, Kelly has worked to secure funding for the cleanup of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, championed legislation to support innovative paths to the cleanup of abandoned mine sites, and raised the issue of abandoned hardrock uranium mines with Administration officials repeatedly