Today, the Committee will be discussing three bills: a Brownfields bill, a coal ash bill, and a Good Samaritan bill. The Brownfields bill is ready to move forward. The coal ash bill weakens environmental protections and should not move forward. Additional work is needed on the Good Samaritan bill, and I am working with Senators Bennet and Gardner to improve that bill.
First, I would like to talk about the BUILD Act, S. 1479, which would reauthorize and improve EPA’s Brownfields program so lands can be reused. It is very important these acres not remain out of use. An identical bill was passed out of this Committee in 2014 when I was Chairman, and I support this legislation.
The second bill, S. 2446, would significantly weaken the protections in EPA’s recently finalized coal ash rule. This new rule contains important protections for communities near coal ash disposal sites, including safeguards to prevent contamination of drinking water.
Coal ash is dangerous because it contains many toxins, such as mercury, arsenic, and lead, which are known to cause cancer and harm children’s development. Coal ash is often stored in impoundments that are unlined and located adjacent to rivers and lakes, where toxic substance leach into groundwater and surface waters. As we saw in Kingston, Tennessee, and the Dan River in North Carolina, these impoundments can fail, spreading toxic waste throughout communities and waterways.
In light of the ongoing water crisis in Flint, where we have heard disturbing reports of children being poisoned by contaminated drinking water, Congress should be doing more to protect the American people from polluted water – not less. It is very disappointing that this Committee is considering a bill that would undermine EPA’s new rule to prevent contamination of drinking water from toxic coal ash sites. Instead, I believe EPA’s rule should be implemented quickly so that cleanup of millions of tons of coal ash around the country can begin.
The third bill is a discussion draft proposed by Colorado Senators Bennet and Gardner to encourage so-called “Good Samaritan” cleanups of abandoned hardrock mines. The bill would allow individuals who are not responsible for the contamination at a mine site to conduct a voluntary cleanup of an abandoned mine and be shielded from liability under the Clean Water Act and Superfund.
Abandoned hardrock mines pose a serious threat to the waterways that people use for recreation and that provide drinking water to our children and families. Mine wastes frequently contain high levels of dangerous heavy metals, including mercury, lead, and arsenic.
These cleanups are so difficult that a longtime EPA contractor caused a massive leak from an abandoned mine as they tried very hard to figure out the best way to clean it up.
Nationwide, there are over 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines, and cleanup costs are estimated to be as high as $50 billion. Pollution from abandoned mines is a significant and complex problem. To truly address this complex problem, significant reforms are needed to our mining laws to ensure that the polluter pays, not the taxpayer.
I appreciate the Colorado Senators’ efforts. I am working with them to ensure we address some of the remaining problems with the bill. I want to make improvements to the legislation so that it will protect the environment and ensure that taxpayers will not be on the hook if a Good Samaritan makes the pollution worse.
Any Good Samaritan legislation approved by this Committee must ensure adequate oversight of cleanup efforts, require clean ups to result in clear improvement of the environment, and protect taxpayers if a cleanup fails.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.