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Montana News

Thousands Of Abandoned Mines In Montana Pose Surface Water Risks

Photograph showing the seepage outflow from the drain pipe at the     American Tunnel at Gladstone, Colorado, as it appeared on September 3, 2015, with  about 100 gpm of acid water flowing out.
U.S. Department of Interior
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Photograph showing the seepage outflow from the drain pipe at the American Tunnel at Gladstone, Colorado, as it appeared on September 3, 2015, with about 100 gpm of acid water flowing out.

An Interior Department probe blames sloppy work by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a 3 million gallon wastewater spill from a Colorado gold mine.

Roughly a third of Montana's estimated 3,000 known abandoned mines could potentially pollute surface water.

It happened back in 2009 when a previously unknown and plugged mine entrance blew out, contaminating the Little Blackfoot River with arsenic, zinc and cadmium.

Montana's Abandoned Mine Lands Program reclaims abandoned coal mines. It's funded with coal-tax money, but is currently not allowed to reclaim old hard rock mines.

Program manager Autumn Coleman hopes the government investigation into the Colorado gold mine spill raises awareness about proposed "Good Samaritan" legislation:

"What that law would essentially do is offer liability protection to watershed groups or citizen groups that want to go in and clean up abandoned mine sites in their watersheds."

Congress has debated Good Samaritan legislation for years. Some want the hard rock mining industry to be assessed a reclamation fee like the one payed by the coal industry.

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