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Abandoned Mines

Hazardous waste from Mt. Diablo Mercury Mine

Hazardous waste seeps from the San Francisco Bay Area's Mt. Diablo Mercury Mine. More than 47,000 abandoned mines exist in California - with more than 5,000 presenting environmental hazards.

Sustainable Conservation evaluated the costs and benefits of voluntary cleanups at abandoned mines in the western U.S. - and produced a case comparison between a voluntary cleanup done in Utah under the federal Good Samaritan Initiative, and a voluntary cleanup proposed in California.

In June 2007, in an effort to advance implementation of the Good Samaritan Initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released interim guidance and a model agreement designed to remove legal liabilities and regulatory constraints that discouraged the voluntary cleanup of abandoned mines.

California's Department of Conservation estimates that more than 47,000 abandoned mines exist in California, and more than 5,000 present environmental hazards. Of these, approximately 900 are located within the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. Approximately 67% of the abandoned mines in California occur on federal lands, while 31% occur on private lands.

While "acid mine drainage" from these mines pollutes creeks and rivers, degrades drinking water, and can harm and kill fish and wildlife, the mining industry has not addressed these "legacy mines." Only a fraction of these sites will ever be formally cleaned up by government given existing staffing and funding levels at state and federal agencies. If organizations not responsible for the development or operation of abandoned mines wish to clean them up voluntarily, then the guidance and model agreement released by the EPA and DOJ provide these Good Samaritans with some important tools needed to do the job. Funding for the work presents another challenge entirely.

Sustainable Conservation's study reviews the legal and engineering methodologies used by a non-profit organization, four federal agencies and two private companies to clean up the Pacific Mine along Utah's American Fork Canyon River. The Utah experience is then compared to the circumstances surrounding the proposed cleanup of the abandoned Mount Diablo Mercury Mine along California's Marsh Creek (Contra Costa County). A series of detailed conclusions and recommendations distill the lessons learned to date in Utah and California, and provide stakeholders with options for advancing a voluntary cleanup of the Mount Diablo Mercury Mine.

The study provides compelling insight into how the Good Samaritan Initiative has been, and could be, used successfully in the West to empower voluntary actions that protect the environment and people.

> Full Report, "Cleaning Up Abandoned and Orphaned Mines in California"

> Companion presentation

> Supporting Documents: