Mining reform lands in Washington, D.C.

The tides appear to be turning against hardrock mining. This week, a breakthrough step was taken by the U.S. Senate on reforming the 1872 mining law and protecting the Colorado landscape. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered to develop rules that will ensure mining companies will again never dodge environmental cleanup in the future.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., chaired a Tuesday hearing on mining reform in the U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. The session marks the first time federal mining reform legislation has been introduced in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate since 1993.

In recent years, hardrock mining soared throughout the nation with uranium claims alone jumping 239 percent from 2003-09. Meanwhile, the 1872 mining law places the development of hardrock minerals as the best use of public lands, often creating irrational public land use decisions. Threats to communities are just one of the reasons why 20 state legislators and county commissioners in 11 counties submitted letters to Sen. Udall supporting strong mining reform.

“A lot has changed since 1872. The West is settled, and agriculture, tourism and outdoor recreation are primary economic drivers for mountain towns,” said Colorado Sen. Gail Schwartz. “We need sensible mining policy. Colorado has taken steps toward reform.”

The development of gold, silver, uranium and other minerals has left a lasting legacy of pollution throughout Colorado. Several former uranium processing areas – including Durango’s Smelter and the nearby town of Uravan – became Superfund sites.

Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project is a lead attorney for communities on mining projects that threaten the health of local communities. “There’s a dangerous, dirty side to mining operations,” said Parsons. “Local communities, their waterways, and lands should be safeguarded from the threat of mining pollution. We need federal legislation that balances mining with other important resources and the health of communities.”

At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency has been ordered to develop rules to ensure companies cannot avoid environmental cleanup by declaring bankruptcy.

The agency plans to implement financial assurance requirements to require that owners and operators of these facilities, not taxpayers, foot the bill for environmental cleanup.

Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group’s U.S. public lands program, applauded the decision. She noted that the decision identifies mining as a taxpayer burden and singles out hardrock mining as the nation’s top polluter. She also commended efforts by Udall and others to “bring the Civil War-era mining law into the 21st century.” Whether those efforts pass muster will be seen in coming weeks and months.

El Niño winter begins to take shape

Southwest Colorado’s favorite weather phenomenon is once again churning off the coast of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently announced the arrival of a strong El Niño. The climate phenomenon warms central and eastern tropical Pacific waters, occurs on average every two to five years, and typically lasts about 12 months. It also frequently makes for huge winters in the Southern Rocky Mountains.

NOAA expects this El Niño to continue developing during the next several months, with further strengthening possible. The event is expected to last through the winter of 2009-10.

However, El Niño’s effects do depend on a variety of factors, such as intensity and extent of ocean warming, and the time of year. On the positive side, El Niño can help to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity. It also typically brings large amounts of winter precipitation to the arid Southwest.

However, El Niño also has a nasty side. Past El Niños have led to damaging winter storms in California and increased storminess across the southern United States. Other events have also produced severe flooding and mudslides in Central and South America, and drought in Indonesia.

“Advanced climate science allows us to alert industries, governments and emergency managers about the weather conditions El Niño may bring, so these can be factored into decision-making and ultimately protect life, property and the economy,” said Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator.

Race for Colorado House underway

Brian O’Donnell, a Democrat from Durango, announced his candidacy today for the Colorado State House in the 59th District. Lew Webb, a Durango Republican, has also declared his intention of running for State Rep. Ellen Roberts’ seat. Roberts, also a Durango Republican, announced her bid for the Colorado Senate in June.

O’Donnell, 38, works as the Executive Director of a Southwest Colorado based non-profit organization, the National Conservation System Foundation. O’Donnell previously worked as the national Public Lands Director for the sportsmen’s group Trout Unlimited.  

Upon announcing his candidacy, O’Donnell stated the importance of representing all parts of the district and working across party lines. “I am running because we need to improve the economy of Southwest Colorado, make quality health care more accessible and affordable, and protect our land and water,” said O’Donnell. “I pledge to represent all of the citizens in House District 59, whether you live in Archuleta, La Plata, San Juan or Montezuma County.”

O’Donnell has been involved in politics for more than 15 years including work on congressional and presidential campaigns. Because of his expertise on energy, water and land issues, O’Donnell was appointed to the Obama Campaign’s national energy and environment policy committee.

Webb is campaigning on a platform of smaller and less intrusive government.


Reber donates 2nd sculpture to City

The City of Durango’s permanent public art collection grows in size this week. A new sculpture will be dedicated at a celebration next Mon., July 20. “The Guardian,” a sculpture by Mick Reber, will go on display at noon at Memorial Park, located at 29th Street and E. Third Avenue.

Reber, professor emeritus with Fort Lewis College, maintained a studio in Durango for 30 years. Reber holds BFA and MFA degrees with extensive independent study in France. He is listed in Who’s Who in American Art and his work has been seen in Art in Methods, American Photographer, Art News and Art Week.  Reber’s large scale sculpture  “Parade Formation” was installed at the entrance to Santa Rita Park and became part of the City’s public art collection in 2003.

A short ceremony will be followed by refreshments.

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows