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Fact Sheet: Good Samaritan Administrative Tools

As part of the Good Samaritan Initiative, on June 6, 2007, EPA issued Interim Guiding Principles for Good Samaritan Projects at Orphan Mine Sites and Transmittal of CERCLA Administrative Tools for Good Samaritans (PDF) commonly referred to as the "Guiding Principles."

The purpose of the administrative tools is to reduce barriers under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, commonly known as Superfund) for volunteers ("Good Samaritans") to clean up abandoned hard rock mines. These Good Samaritans have no liability or responsibility for the pollution at abandoned hard rock mines, yet they want to help the environment by volunteering to clean up a portion of the problem.

The "Guiding Principles" memorandum included several administrative tools that will allow Good Samaritan cleanups to move forward under existing statutory authorities. The administrative tools include:

  1. model comfort/status letter, and
  2. model administrative settlement agreement

Good Samaritan Initiative

The Good Samaritan Initiative is an Agency-wide effort to reduce barriers to the cleanup of abandoned (“orphan”) mine sites by non-liable volunteers. According to estimates, there are over half a million orphan mines nationwide, most of which are former hard rock mines located in the western states. In many cases, the parties responsible for the pollution from these orphan mine sites no longer exist or are not financially viable.

Many cleanup volunteers, who are NOT responsible for the pollution and have no liability, have expressed a desire to undertake cleanups at these mines. However, many of these non-liable parties have expressed concern that they may be held liable for pollution outside the scope of what they volunteered to clean up.

These voluntary cleanups will most likely not solve all of the problems at the abandoned mine but the Agency wants to encourage making incremental improvements that benefit the ecosystems impacted by these mines.

The Good Samaritans are principally concerned about potential Clean Water Act (CWA) and Superfund liability. The administrative tools reference above use existing authorities and focus on Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, commonly referred to as Superfund) liability. The EPA believes that a narrowly tailored legislative "fix" for clean water would allow even more Good Samaritan cleanups to happen.

Importantly, the administrative tools preserve the idea under CERCLA that responsible parties should pay for cleanup. These tools do not, nor are they intended to, absolve responsible parties of their liability under existing federal law for any environmental pollution. Rather, the tools are intended solely to protect non-liable parties who volunteer to clean up orphan mine sites by providing greater legal certainty to Good Samaritans. Key provisions of the model administrative settlement agreement are a federal covenant not to sue under CERCLA and protection from third party contribution suits.

More information on the Good Samaritan Initiative is available on the Agency's website or contact Roger Gorke (Office of Water) at 202-564-0470.

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