The U.S. West is dotted with abandoned mines that pollute water and impair habitat, the legacy of earlier generations’ pursuit of wealth and industrial feedstock. In our 2005 report on abandoned mines, the Center of the American West made the case for “Good Samaritan” legislation that will facilitate the cleanup of thousands of deserted hardrock mines. In an effort to prevent the creation of a new generation of legacy mines, mining today involves much more detailed environmental analysis than was applied in the past. More and more, these environmental analyses are predicting that an increasing number of mines will require “perpetual” active management in order to avoid significant environmental degradation after the valuable minerals have been removed. These long-term commitments relate directly to current policy debates over model reliability, the stability of financial institutions, and the meaning of sustainable development.

As part of our broad goal to improve environmental policy related to mining, the Center of the American West has launched this project to study the implications of perpetual management at today’s active mines. We have assembled a team of experts to conduct a detailed analysis of the technical, legal, and economic components of long-term mining liability. Members of our team have published a number of articles on the subject, and we recently collaborated on a peer-reviewed article outlining the key aspects of the issue in the October 2010 issue of Environmental Science and Policy. (Download PDF)

Our goal is to equip all the actors – mine operators, technical consultants, public land managers, policymakers, and other stakeholders – with the tools they need to address the potential for long-term management. We know what failure looks like from the current legacy of abandoned mines and the degraded water quality they cause, but we are confident that responsible mining practices can successfully construct a future that will sustain the West and its people in perpetuity.

For more information about perpetual mine management, including how you can support this project, please contact Houston Kempton.