Today, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, with Reps. Steve Pearce and Ben Ray Luján, introduced legislation in the Senate and House to help state and tribal governments complete high-priority uranium mine cleanup projects.
The Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund was created as part of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) and requires fees to be paid on local coal production to fund state and tribal mine reclamation. Current law limits state and tribal use of certain allocations from the fund to coal-related cleanup. The legislation introduced today would allow them to dedicate all AML allocations to be used for both coal or non-coal mine reclamation, including for hundreds of abandoned uranium mines throughout New Mexico and the Navajo Nation.
"In return for the natural resources New Mexico has contributed to fuel the nation and strengthen our national security we have been left with a toxic legacy," said Udall, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. "We are joining together to direct funding to clean up decades of uranium mining projects in the state that have the greatest impact on the health and safety of our communities."
"Families in New Mexico are still living with the dire consequences of our last era of uranium mining," Heinrich said. "These mining sites continue to be environmental and public health risks, especially for our tribal communities. I'm pleased with the progress we made during the last Congress to direct much-needed resources to the cleanup effort, and I'm eager for the day this legislation becomes law. The health and well-being of New Mexico families depend on it."
"I'm pleased to work across party lines with my colleagues from New Mexico on this key legislation for the state," said Pearce. "Mines in Western states like New Mexico are desperately in need of cleanup-for the safety, health, and prosperity of the community. Today's bill provides the clarification needed to ensure that the Abandoned Mine Land program serves all Americans, as originally intended."
"New Mexico has a long history of contributing to our country's national security," Luján said. "During World War II and the Cold War, the mining and processing of uranium was conducted in many areas across the state. Today, the legacy of abandoned uranium mines has negatively impacted public health, public safety, and environmental health for generations of New Mexicans, especially those in minority and tribal communities. This important bill will provide New Mexico with a vital opportunity to tap into critical funding to clean up abandoned uranium mines. Last Congress, we made progress on this legislation, getting it through the Senate and House Natural Resources Committee with unanimous support. I am hopeful this Congress, we can finally get it to the President's desk for his signature."
The legislation would also allow all AML funds to be used to seal tunnels and entryways of coal and non-coal mines, as well as for acid mine drainage abatement and treatment.
Abandoned mines can contaminate surface and groundwater supplies, among other health, safety and environmental impacts.
Throughout the past several years, the New Mexico State Legislature and several local county and community organizations have advocated for the change in federal law to better reflect the necessities of higher-priority cleanup projects.
Similar legislation unanimously passed the Senate in 2011 and was reported out of the House Natural Resources Committee in 2012 but did not reach the full House for a vote.