September 15, 2015

Preventing Another Animas River Disaster

Water is the lifeblood of New Mexico communities. Our rivers are not only important sources for drinking water and irrigation, they hold cultural significance, fuel our outdoor recreation economy and shape the landscapes we call home. That's why the Gold King Mine blowout and sudden release of 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers were so devastating for Northwestern New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.

Earlier this month I visited farmers on the Navajo Nation who have lost much of their crop because of the spill. The Environmental Protection Agency has taken responsibility, and this week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will testify at two Senate hearings about the disaster. I will attend both hearings, and I'll remind the administrator about the families I met — as well as others in San Juan County and on the Navajo Nation who are still struggling to recover.

I'm also working on legislation with Senator Martin Heinrich and Representative Ben Ray Luján to ensure the EPA continues to work with San Juan County and the Navajo Nation until everyone has recovered. And I'm working on a measure to help prevent a spill like this from ever happening again.

The Gold King Mine accident has shone a light on a problem that has haunted the West for over a century. Tens of thousands of abandoned mines are scattered across the West, and thousands of them pose pollution risks. Yet because our mining laws date back to 1872, mining companies still pay no royalty, and taxpayers are on the hook for abandoned mine cleanup.

Today's mining companies need to be held responsible for environmental damage they cause, and paying a reasonable royalty — like the oil and gas industry has for years — would ensure funds are available to properly clean up abandoned mines without forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.

I've pushed to reform our broken mining law since my very early days in Congress, and I plan to introduce new legislation with Senator Heinrich in the near future. I hope the Animas River disaster serves as a wake-up call to my colleagues in Congress that we need to protect our scarce water supplies and send our comprehensive mining reform bill to the president's desk. Together, we'll make sure San Juan County and the Navajo Nation fully recover — and that our rivers never flow orange again.