|Source: Durango Herald
Travelling by RV through the Rocky Mountains is a visual treat. Awesome vistas, towering peaks, wildlife unique to the intermountain west, abundant springs, waterfalls, raging rivers, and a rich history of stalwart pioneers, mountain men, and miners all looking for the motherlode.
Hidden from view are toxic threats almost too numerous to count and comprehend. Two months ago I wrote about the Gold King "mine spill" into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. The river no longer runs with the dirty yellow color, but the toxic threat remains. I drove to the area last month to get a better sense of the disaster's impact. On the surface things looked normal for a tourist mecca: lots of traffic, no apparent business closings except a temporary shutdown of the river rafting companies. The community seemingly dodged the silver bullet. I spoke to an RV campground owner about the impact and was told that the day after the spill, he received eighteen reservation cancellations, but that business was mostly back to normal for now.
“The West has 550,000 abandoned and inactive mines; 10,000 miles of degraded rivers and streams; hundreds of polluted lakes and reservoirs; and, more than 50 Superfund sites,” according to the Center for Environmental Equity.There are at least five sites with pollution problems worse problem than the Animas River.
The pollution remediation to the Gold King mine "accident" is well underway at a cost to taxpayers of about $1,000,000 per year. This is just a temporary fix to the widespread problem of abandoned hard rock mine acid drainage. It would likely take $50 BILLION to address all the existing mine leaks.
Knowing now the toxic threats throughout the West it's hard to look at the Rocky Mountains with the same sense of awe that I had as a child first travelling to the mountains. Me: innocence lost and rage increased.
What can be done about the situation? Well Congress could fix the problem of new sources of pollution by eliminating the General Mining Law of 1872 that enables any person or corporation to stake a claim and start polluting. See how easy it is to become a permitted polluter!
Republicans have long fought reform efforts to protect the environment, and specifically the General Mining Law of 1872. With the current unmanageable, Republican dominated house of Representatives, little hope exists for progress. The mining lobby spent almost $23 million dollars last year influencing industry favorable legislation.