Soap Box

Cleaning up the mining industry

To the editor,

Growing up, I learned quickly to clean up my room. Or else. It wasn’t always easy. Or pleasant. But I’d made a promise to my parents, and I begrudgingly kept it.

And that is what I expect from others now. If you make a mess, clean it up, and don’t expect others to do it for you.

That is the premise of the bill I sponsored earlier this month with Rep. Dylan Roberts, of Avon, designed to protect our precious water quality from adverse mining activity.

Under HB19-1113, any new mine permit must come with a reclamation plan ensuring pristine water and a cleaned-up surrounding environment. The mine owner will no longer be able to self-bond by submitting the paperwork claiming the owner has the financial ability to tidy up after the mine closes. Instead, the owner must put up the money ahead of time.

Several bond instruments are suggested in the bill. Most operators obtain a corporate surety bond, which is basically an insurance policy where a reputable insurance company promises to make good on the reclamation costs if the operator does not.

Too many mining companies working in Colorado have promised to restore the mine’s environment when the company leaves, but have gone bankrupt, and taxpayers are on the hook for cleanup. That includes, in some cases, paying for a perpetual water treatment plan, forever.

According to reports, owners of the Summitville Mine, Galactic Resources, declared bankruptcy in 1992 after years of polluting the Alamosa River. More than $150 million was spent to clean the site; the company paid a settlement of $30 million, and treatment costs continue to rise. The EPA, through a Superfund declaration, has paid most of the costs, but in 2022, Colorado taxpayers will start paying $2.2 million per year for water treatment.

That should never happen again.

Mining is important to Southwest Colorado, so we did not want to run a bill putting the industry out of business. Our water is just as important, so the bill makes sure both can happen: a thriving mining industry and clean water.

This bill would not have stopped what happened at the Gold King Mine. Though the water we saw in the Animas River was an unforgettable shade of yellow, the incident showed what is often inside the abandoned mines. This bill only affects new permits.

The Ouray Silver Mine has been working on the issue of mining and its relationship with clean water and has been forward-thinking enough to operate in a manner that is both profitable for them and good for the environment.

Rep. Roberts and I ran this bill last year, but it was blocked in the Senate. We listened to our opponents, and we made some changes. The most important change we made was to make the end date more flexible. Mine owners said it was just too difficult to predict exactly how long it would take to restore the clean water and environment. The date now must be “reasonably foreseeable.”

We also added in more clarification about Good Samaritan participation. If a group wants to re-mine a polluting site while it does a bigger cleanup of a historic mine, then a Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) permit is required. This bill would not change the situation or prevent the cleanup from happening.

With these provisions added, the DRMS did not oppose the bill. We have strong support from Western Slope counties and cities, environmental groups, water districts, water providers and many business and community groups. It passed with strong bipartisan support through the House and is now on its way to the Senate.

Colorado can do it both. We can support the mining industry in Colorado, and we can have clean water. When we encourage our mine owners to clean up after themselves, we all win.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango

The losing end of energy subsidies

To the editor,

I recently read Rep. Scott Tipton’s response to the Green New Deal, a proposed package to address issues related to climate change. He stated his concern about it, “The federal government should not be in the business of picking energy winners and losers.” I am in agreement. That is why I am surprised that a closer look at his actions are inconsistent with his words.

Tipton has voted to keep fossil fuel subsidies strong throughout his time as a representative. A report from Oil Change International found that in 2015-16, federal and state governments provided a combined $35 billion in fossil fuel subsidies. Why are fossil fuel subsidies overlooked in the discussion of “picking winners and losers?”

What about picking the extraction polluting economy of today (temporary winners) to the crushing environmental debt we are saddling young Americans with (the losers) – meaning an unhealthy planet where life is less viable. Current federal government policy and subsidies favors fossil fuel energy over all other energy forms. It would be like giving a monetary subsidy to tobacco companies for damaging our health from cigarette manufacturing. Why are we giving money to coal and oil and gas, encouraging them to emit more greenhouse gasses?

In the end Rep. Tipton, aren’t we all losers from increased climate-related extreme weather events, wildfires, drought and heat waves?

– Jo Ann Kopke, Bayfieldv

Make it count for all, not just some

To the editor,

Have you seen the official “Make it Count” donation box in businesses around downtown Durango? At many counters, you’ll find small, slotted, lucite boxes with tiny padlocks & signs that say, “Make it count & show that Durango cares by giving to nonprofits and not to panhandlers.”

The first time I encountered one of these boxes, I was all smiles until I read that there was not only a specific request to support our many nonprofits but also a suggestion regarding who not to support – panhandlers. There was something odd in that final phrasing, marginalizing a group of people, that left me feeling queasy.

I contacted a leader at the Business Improvement District to voice my unhappiness and concern over the wording. Could they strike the part about panhandlers and keep the message positive? We had some respectful back and forth dialogue via email but the result was that the wording was going to stand.

Here’s where I stand. Yes, let’s support our local non-profits. That’s wonderful. They do great work and in turn support so many people in need. However, singling out a group of people to not help suggests that these collection boxes may not represent an entirely humanitarian effort. Is the real agenda in circulating these collection boxes around town an effort to “clean up” downtown Durango? If that’s not the case, why not just collect for our non-profits, period? Offering generous and thoughtful people that option is enough. And these same people can also make an assessment when encountering an individual as to whether or not this is someone who looks too cold, too hungry or too tired and could use some immediate help. Each of us is free to do so and intelligent enough to make our own decisions in that regard.

Respect, kindness and compassion are deserved by all  people. Intolerance, fear and/or hatred are ineffective in resolving issues. I find the singling out of panhandlers, regardless of one’s philosophical position on that activity, to be mean-spirited at the very least, and I am ashamed to have citizens of and visitors to Durango confronted by this language at the same time as they are being asked to open their hearts and their wallets for others.

– Lisa Pedolsky, Durango

Winter Warrior 10k soldiers on

To the editor,

A humble thank you to our c(om)munity who stepped up to save my 9th annual Winter Warrior 10k Snowshoe Race after i initially cancelled it due to my sudden caregiving responsibilities for my 89-year-young M(om). It was Shaun Burke, my much younger yet ongoing rival in the Purgatory Twilight Race Series, who said to ilg after yet another crushing effort in freezing temps under headlamps, “Ilg? We gotta keep your race on the calendar.”

So, on Sun., Feb. 10, after a whirlwind effort by Brett Sublett of Durango Running Co., Shaun, Helen Low at Durango Nordic Center and my sponsors at Tailwind Nutrition, we pulled off an amazing race that saw nearly 50 racers giving it their all knowing that there were no age groups, no awards, no raffles, no prizes as per the past. Yet? Upon the sacred snows we raced and showed our genuine love of sacred sweat upon even more sacred snows! Snowshoeing is a Native American creation and is the original winter sport and thus deserves ongoing honor. Big changes higher next year for the Winter Warrior 10k! Stay tuned via FB.

– Steve Ilg, Durango

Separation anxiety on the border

To the editor,

It’s a typical Saturday morning at the entrance to the U.S. from Tijuana. We are there at 7:30 a.m. to witness, understand and support those who wait in line to either get a number or have their number called. This number process has been self-organized and somewhat efficient. They have a hand-written sign showing the latest number “1870” in one corner of this plaza next to the letters spelling out “MEXICO” running along the slats leading to the entrance to San Diego. Every number represents up to 10 people. A name and number is called, and we wait to see if someone is still there. Maybe they gave up and decided to stay in Mexico or return home. Maybe they are at a shelter and don’t realize their number is being called. Maybe they are sick and can’t come. But then someone comes to claim their number and they go and line up. This number brings some form of hope to people from El Salvador, Honduras,

Haiti and other countries who are seeking asylum – safety for their families, relief of fear of persecution in their home countries, an end to the oppression they have lived on a daily basis and an escape from fear for their lives. I stand in that plaza that is the entrance for those white folks like myself who can walk through from Tijuana to San Diego with not an ounce of resistance. But these folks don’t get to walk through ... they are taken away in vans.

I am watching the hopeful faces, the tired and weary faces of those who are seeking asylum. I watch as a woman who I’ve met through a volunteer group, World Central Kitchen, waits and hears her number called. She is excited because she has found a sponsor who will assist her once she gets into the United States – helping her with legal representation, a living situation and possible work. She hugs us all ... those who have met her, those who have worked with her at the Kitchen. The excitement and anticipation is written all over her face. I watch as another woman who is 9 months pregnant who I witnessed pass out in line while waiting, returns after being examined by a doctor, to hear her number called.

I watch as they are told to line up, to go inside a parking lot to be taken somewhere else in this process. I ask questions of the support people – volunteers, lawyers and translators who are there every day to help these asylum seekers. No, they don’t know where they are being taken, most of these folks waiting in line don’t have any idea what’s next. But I’ve heard ... detention centers, ankle monitors, being sent back. Their fate is unknown but their faces are hopeful – something better, something safer, finally.

I watch as the border agent has a small group (20 or so) of mostly women and children line up inside the border parking lot and then asks the women and children to go into one van and the men into another. And so the separation begins. I watch and wonder if they will ever see each other again. Will these fathers ever see their daughters again, will these wives and mothers ever spend another day with their husbands again? They are all so trusting that they are coming to a more accepting and better world than the one they came from. I want to warn them. This is going to be really hard, not better ... maybe worse because they may be in detention for a long time instead of free.

But then, the next day I volunteer as a therapist at what is called a “pop-up medical clinic” in Tijuana. I experience the stories of why people are so desperately fleeing their homes – disappeared children, families being kidnapped and tortured. I learn that 95 percent of women experience some form of sexual perpetration on this journey to freedom. I understand why they feel like anything is better than where they are from, where they have been. I understand the hope, but why do I feel so sick to my stomach at what their future might be?

– Joanie Trussel, Mancos