Mining has been conducted in Idaho for over a century, and hundreds of mines were developed and operated before modern federal and state environmental regulations were enacted. Many of these historical mines pose safety hazards from mine openings, unsafe structures and dilapidated buildings. Some of these sites threaten water quality and other environmental values.
The term "abandoned mine" generally applies to a mineral excavation or surface disturbance and associated facilities where mining operations have been permanently terminated. The term "abandoned historical mine" refers to an abandoned mine that was operated and abandoned before the enactment of modern environmental laws. When no owner, operator or other party responsible for the abandoned mine can be identified, it is referred to as an "orphan mine."
Many abandoned mines are located in remote and rugged terrain and may pose relatively small risks to public safety and health. As Idaho gains population and tourism increases, people are more likely to come into contact with such mines.
The issues surrounding abandoned mines are complex due to land and mineral ownership patterns in mining districts. It is not uncommon for private, federal and state-owned lands to be side-by-side or intermingled. Often the mineral rights are not held by the same person or agency that owns the land. It is not uncommon, therefore, for dozens of parties with partial ownership or operational histories to be associated with a given site.
The most serious impediments to the cleanup of abandoned mines are the lack of funding and concerns about liability. Thirty four percent of the mine license tax is dedicated to the state’s abandoned mine program, but little assistance has been available from the federal government. State agencies and private companies have been reluctant to undertake voluntary cleanups of abandoned mines because of the potential to incur liability under the Clean Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as Superfund).
IMA Policy: Threats to public safety, public health and the environment associated with abandoned mines are a societal problem that should be addressed. The Idaho Mining Association supports:
Protection of public safety at abandoned mines. Specifically, we support:
- Laws that encourage mine owners to secure mine openings and reduce other mine hazards.
- State guidelines to assure that efforts to secure mine openings protect public safety.
- Protection against liability for owners who follow state guidelines in securing mine openings.
- Funding for a state program to secure mine openings and reduce other hazards at orphan mines.
Protection of public health and the environment through the remediation of environmental problems and the reclamation of disturbed lands at abandoned mines. Specifically, we support:
- Full-cost reclamation bonding for new mines under the Idaho Surface Mining Act.
- Changes in the Clean Water Act and CERCLA to remove disincentives for voluntary cleanups at abandoned mines.
- Modification of policies and laws that require strict compliance with all environmental standards at abandoned historical mines so that public safety and environmental improvements are achieved.
- Policies and laws that allow and facilitate partial and incremental cleanup efforts at abandoned historical mines when appropriate and feasible.
- Policies and laws that encourage remining to address problems at abandoned mines.
- Funding for a state program to protect public health and the environment at orphan mines.
Miners who violate state or federal health, safety or environmental laws should be held responsible. We believe that the mining industry as a whole should not be held financially responsible for damages caused by such violators. We also believe that today's industry is not responsible for the impacts caused by mining practices utilized before the enactment of those laws.