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Water: Adopt Your Watershed

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is EPA's Good Samaritan Initiative?

    The Good Samaritan Initiative is an Agency-wide initiative to accelerate restoration of watersheds and fisheries threatened by abandoned hard rock mine runoff by encouraging voluntary cleanups by parties that do not own the property and are not responsible for the property's environmental conditions.

  2. Why is the EPA concerned about abandoned hard rock mines?

    Inactive or abandoned mine sites can pose serious human health, public safety and environmental hazards. According to some estimates, there are over half a million abandoned mines nationwide, most of which are former hard rock mines located in the western States. Acid mine drainage from abandoned mines is responsible for damaging watersheds and degrading water quality throughout the United States.

  3. What are the major obstacles to voluntary cleanups of abandoned mine sites?

    There are volunteers who are interested in helping restore watersheds impaired by abandoned mines. Many watershed organizations believe that funding for cleanup work constitutes the largest obstacle to abandoned mine clean ups. However, EPA understands from discussions with prospective volunteers that the threat of liability pursuant to the Clean Water Act (CWA) and/or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) can also be obstacles to Good Samaritan cleanups. A volunteer conducting a partial cleanup could have concerns about being found liable for the entire cleanup or being obligated to obtain a discharge permit which requires compliance with strict water quality standards in streams that are already in violation of these standards. The Agency's administrative tools reduce the threat of liability under CERCLA and will encourage more Good Samaritans to restore watersheds impacted by acid mine drainage from abandoned mine sites. A targeted legislative revision for clean water could allow even more Good Samaritan cleanups to happen.

  4. What are EPA's Good Samaritan administrative CERCLA tools?

    The Good Samaritan administrative CERCLA tools were published on June 6, 2007. The tools are a model comfort letter and a model settlement agreement (an administrative order on consent or "AOC"). The Agency also issued a memorandum to EPA Regions, describing the purpose and intended use of the tools.

  5. What types of abandoned hard rock mines are the focus of EPA's administrative CERCLA tools?

    EPA anticipates that Good Samaritan cleanups will take place at abandoned, inactive mine or primary metal processing mill sites for which, despite reasonable efforts, no financially viable party (except, for purposes of these tools, the owner of the site who did not cause, contribute to, or exacerbate the contamination) is potentially liable to perform or pay for, or has been required to perform or pay for, environmental cleanup actions under applicable law. EPA anticipates that Good Samaritan cleanups will take place at sites that are not of federal interest. Thus, EPA does not expect that sites listed (or proposed for listing) on the National Priorities List and sites that are the subject of ongoing or planned removal actions, would be eligible for Good Samaritan cleanups under this Initiative.

  6. How is a Good Samaritan defined under EPA's administrative CERCLA tools?

    A Good Samaritan is defined as a Person who is rendering care, assistance, or advice in accordance with the National Contingency Plan ("NCP") or at the direction of an on-scene coordinator, by voluntarily agreeing to clean up contamination at an Orphan Mine Site, and who:

    • is not a past owner or current owner of the Property and has no intention of purchasing the Property in the future;
    • is not potentially liable for the remediation of the Existing Contamination pursuant to Sections 106 or 107 of CERCLA; and
    • is not potentially liable under any other federal, state or local law for the remediation of the Existing Contamination.

  7. Under EPA's administrative CERCLA tools, can a landowner be a Good Samaritan?

    No. Only parties with no current or historical ties to the abandoned or inactive mine site, who do not intend to purchase the property, and who did not cause or contribute are eligible as Good Samaritans. Although landowners cannot be Good Samaritans under the administrative CERCLA tools, certain landowners may have a different, statutory protection from CERCLA liability if they meet the criteria of a "bona fide prospective purchaser" in CERCLA § 101(40).

  8. Can a mining company be a Good Samaritan under EPA's administrative CERCLA tools?

    A mining company can be a Good Samaritan as long as it meets the definition of "Good Samaritan." Accordingly, a mining company can be a Good Samaritan under the administrative CERCLA tools if it a Person who is rendering care, assistance, or advice in accordance with the National Contingency Plan ("NCP") or at the direction of an on-scene coordinator, by voluntarily agreeing to clean up contamination at an Orphan Mine Site, and who: is not a past or current owner of the property, has no intention of purchasing the property in the future, is not potentially liable for the remediation of the contamination pursuant to CERCLA, and is not potentially liable under any other federal, state or local law for the remediation of the contamination.

  9. Can a Good Samaritan cleanup project involve remining?

    No. Good Samaritan cleanups may allow for limited recycling or incidental reprocessing of historic tailings and waste piles to the extent that such actions are necessary for, and directly related to, the cleanup. A Good Samaritan project can not include the new extraction of remaining reserves.

  10. What do EPA's administrative CERCLA tools accomplish?

    These administrative tools address legal uncertainties under CERCLA that have deterred Good Samaritans from voluntarily cleaning up abandoned (orphan) hard rock mine sites. The tools are designed to preserve CERCLA's fundamental principle that responsible parties should pay for cleanups as intended by Congress. These tools do not absolve responsible parties of their existing liability for pollution.

  11. What protection does a Good Samaritan receive under the CERCLA administrative tools?

    A volunteer that satisfactorily performs a cleanup project under a comfort letter or model settlement agreement will enjoy reduced CERCLA liability for the actions taken in compliance with that letter or settlement.

  12. What is a federal covenant not to sue under the model settlement agreement?

    A Good Samaritan settlement agreement provides a federal covenant not to sue under CERCLA in exchange for cleanup work by a Good Samaritan at an orphan mine site. The United States commits not to sue or take administrative action against the Good Samaritan pursuant to Sections 106 and 107(a) of CERCLA for "existing contamination," contingent upon the Good Samaritan's complete and satisfactory performance of the cleanup, subject only to the United States' limited reservation of rights.

  13. What is contribution protection under the model settlement agreement?

    A Good Samaritan settlement agreement provides contribution protection in exchange for cleanup work by a Good Samaritan at an orphan mine site. "Contribution protection" protects the Good Samaritan from third party contribution suits. Contribution is a legal concept involving the ability of a potentially responsible party to recover a share of its cleanup costs from another potentially responsible party.

  14. What is a Good Samaritan comfort/status letter?

    A Good Samaritan comfort/status letter is intended as a straightforward, non-negotiable document that can be issued relatively quickly at the EPA Regional office level. The letter cites to CERCLA § 107(d), which provides that a person is not liable under CERCLA for costs or damages as a result of taking (or omitting) actions in the course of rendering care, assistance or advice in accordance with the National Contingency Plan (NCP) or at the direction of an On-Scene Coordinator. This letter is intended to encourage Good Samaritans to perform NCP-compliant work at orphan mine sites without having to invest time and resources in negotiating a formal settlement agreement with the federal government. EPA has successfully used comfort/status letters to provide information and assuage liability concerns since issuing its Comfort/Status Letter Policy in 1997.

  15. Do the administrative CERCLA tools let polluters off the hook?

    No, all parties that are liable for the pollution will remain liable for the cleanup. The tools only address the liability concerns of Good Samaritans.

  16. Is there any funding for Good Samaritan cleanups?

    These tools do not provide specific funding for Good Samaritan cleanups. Other Federal programs may be applicable to Good Samaritan cleanups, depending upon their particular eligibility requirements.

  17. What incentive is there for a Good Samaritan to clean up an abandoned mine?

    There are a host of reasons that a Good Samaritan may be interested in volunteering to clean up an abandoned mine site. Conservation groups, for example, may want to improve water quality and restore an aquatic habitat for fishing or other recreational uses. Additionally, communities whose water source is impaired by heavy metals from abandoned mines, may desire to mitigate the source of contamination in order to reduce the cost of treatment. Whatever the incentive, however, there is one unifying goal - to achieve environmental results.

  18. Will the public have an opportunity to comment on proposed Good Samaritan cleanup projects?

    The model settlement agreement provides an opportunity for public review and comment.

  19. What if a Good Samaritan makes the conditions at a site worse?

    Under the model settlement agreement, a party that does not satisfactorily fulfill its obligations under the agreement does not receive the CERCLA covenant not to sue or contribution protection. The model settlement agreement also provides that EPA may take over the cleanup project using a financial mechanism set aside by the Good Samaritan, in the event that the Good Samaritan's work is deficient, late, or endangering human health or the environment. For cleanups performed under both comfort letters or model settlement agreements, EPA retains its authorities to address endangerments to human health or the environment.

  20. Will EPA check on a potential Good Samaritan's financial resources before agreeing to a cleanup project?

    Yes. EPA will require evidence of the Good Samaritan's financial responsibility to conduct the cleanup subject to EPA approval.

  21. Are the Good Samaritan administrative CERCLA tools a roll back of environmental protections?

    No. All parties that are liable for the pollution remain liable for the cleanup. These tools address CERCLA liability concerns of Good Samaritans performing cleanup work. It is not appropriate to hold a volunteer responsible for cleaning up an entire abandoned mine site when its efforts can improve the environment. Without tools that encourage Good Samaritans to perform cleanups, many abandoned hard rock mines will remain polluted, because often the parties responsible for the pollution are no longer in existence or are not financially viable.

  22. How many Good Samaritan cleanups does EPA expect?

    EPA looks forward to hearing from as many Good Samaritans as possible.

  23. If a party wants to perform a Good Samaritan cleanup, whom should the party contact?

    The party should contact the EPA Regional Office in charge of the state where the abandoned mine is located.

  24. Does EPA plan to use the Good Samaritan administrative CERCLA tools at coal mines?

    EPA intends to direct its limited resources primarily to Good Samaritan cleanup projects at abandoned hard rock mine sites. The remediation of coal mines is generally addressed via the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which creates a trust fund to reclaim these sites.

  25. Does EPA plan to use the Good Samaritan administrative CERCLA tools at other kinds of sites?

    EPA's Good Samaritan Initiative is focused on abandoned hard rock mine sites. If non-liable volunteers wish to perform cleanup work at other types of sites, they should contact the Regional office or their State environmental agency.

  26. How does EPA's Good Samaritan Initiative mesh with States' voluntary cleanup programs?

    EPA encourages Good Samaritans to explore the use of state voluntary cleanup programs ("VCPs") to perform cleanup work at abandoned hard rock mines. VCPs generally are tailored to non-liable parties that volunteer to clean up abandoned, contaminated, lower-risk sites that are not of federal interest.


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