Hearing Wrap-Up: DOI’s Secretary Sally Jewell Testified on the Gold King Mine Spill in Colorado; GOP Fails to Address the Larger Problem of Abandoned Mines

Hearing Overview

Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell testified at a full Committee hearing on the Department of the Interior’s independent technical report on the August Gold King Mine spill. This is the second hearing House Natural Resources Republicans held this year on this issue, which they have spent berating and badgering witnesses while ignoring the larger problem of abandoned hardrock mine lands (AMLs) throughout the country. Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) continues to refuse to hold a hearing on Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act, H.R. 963, which would establish a dedicated source of funding to clean up hardrock AMLs and provide Good Samaritan protections under the Clean Water Act for hardrock mine cleanups.


  • The Honorable Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Department of the Interior

Key Takeaways

  • Committee Republicans made multiple comparisons between the Department’s reaction to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, for which DOI was the relevant regulatory agency, and its reaction to the Gold King Mine spill, for which DOI had no involvement.
  • Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources released a new analysis that compares the Republican trio of bills released in the wake of the Gold King Mine incident and Ranking Member Grijalva’s Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act (HR 963). The analysis found that the Republican “proposal” to cleanup AMLs is ineffective and would take 564 years. However, Grijalva's bill (H.R. 963) would require the mining industry to be accountable for the abandoned mine cleanup and fix the problem in roughly 53 years.
  • Chairman Bishop continued spreading misinformation about the responsibilities of the Interior Department and other federal agencies under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Despite the Chairman’s claims to the contrary, Section 7 of the ESA states clearly that consultation is only required when an action is likely to jeopardize the existence of a threatened or endangered species. Accidents during environmental cleanups like the one at Gold King Mine are not likely to occur, and therefore it is clear EPA did not violate the ESA. 


  • This was the second hearing by the full Natural Resources Committee on the Gold King Mine spill; the first was a joint hearing with the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on September 17, 2015.
  • On November 4, 2015, a hearing was held on the two Republican bills, which are part of what is sometimes being referred to as the “Republican mining reform package,” and represent their response to the issues raised by the Gold King Mine spill.
  • In the 114th Congress, Ranking Member Grijalva introduced H.R. 963, which places a royalty on hardrock minerals such as gold, silver, and copper, and requires the industry to pay a small fee for each ton of material they displace.
    • H.R. 963 currently has 27 cosponsors, and has been endorsed by Earthworks, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Western Organization of Resource Councils, and The Wilderness Society.


House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva released the following statement after today’s hearing.

“Today’s hearing was a complete waste of time and failed to address the real problem of abandoned mines. The Gold King Mine Spill turned the Animas River in Colorado orange and opened many people’s eyes to the damaging effects abandoned mines can have on our communities, water supply and wildlife. By not addressing the abandoned mine problem, we’re just asking for another toxic spill to happen again.

“It is ridiculous for Republicans to attack DOI for conflicts of interest while they take hundreds of thousands of dollars from a mining industry they refuse to hold accountable. And it is insulting to the eleven people who died on the Deepwater Horizon to compare the Gold King Mine spill to that. There is no double-standard in the government’s reaction to the Deepwater Horizon versus the government’s reaction to the Gold King. There is, however, a double standard in ignoring the abandoned mine problem completely until a federal agency does something that they can be raked over the coals about.

“The fact is that there are still hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that are leaking billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into streams and rivers across the country. This problem isn’t just going to go away by asking volunteers for donations as Republicans on the Committee have proposed in their mining reform package. Abandoned mines were created by the industry, not the Environmental Protection Agency, so the obvious solution would be to hold mining companies accountable for paying to clean up their mess.

“My bill, the Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act (H.R. 963), would do just that by holding the mining industry responsible for the cleanup and raise the hundreds of millions of dollars needed each year to start addressing this problem. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that abandoned mines are a very real problem and need to be fixed. Now I just ask that Chairman Bishop gives H.R. 963 a fair shot by holding a hearing on my bill and we work together to find a solution.”

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