US Senators have introduced legislation to amend the country's 1872 mining law, requiring companies to pay fees to create a clean-up fund for inactive mines.
The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015, S. 2254, introduced by senators Tom Udall, Martin Heinrich, Michael Bennet, Ron Wyden and Edward Markey, will ensure mining companies pay royalties for extracting mineral resources from public lands.
Many of the abandoned mines are continuously leaking toxic chemicals into rivers and streams and the new bill helps to make sure that taxpayers are not burdened with cleaning up these sites.
The mines also have the potential for disasters such as the recent blowout of the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado in August that spilled three million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.
Communities in New Mexico and Colorado are still struggling to recover from the impact.
Under the current mining law, companies can extract gold, silver, copper, uranium and other minerals from public land and not have to pay any royalties.
Tom Udall said: "Hardrock mining companies have enjoyed a sweetheart deal for nearly 150 years, leaving taxpayers on the hook to clean up hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines leaking toxins and threatening communities across the west.
"Gold and silver on public lands are a natural resource, just like oil and gas. Taxpayers deserve their fair share of the profit, and communities across the west need that money to clean up abandoned mines."
The legislation ensures that mining companies, which did not pay any royalties for the natural resource on the public lands till now, will now contribute to the effort to clean up abandoned sites.
Michael Bennet said: "Three months ago, the Gold King Mine spill provided a sudden and devastating reminder of the dangers that abandoned mines pose in Colorado and across the west.
"More than 200 mines in Colorado are leaking acid mine drainage that is polluting headwaters and affecting water quality for communities downstream. Our bill will help clean up these mines and prevent the possibility of future tragedies like the Gold King Mine."
The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 will set a 2% to 5% royalty rate for new mining operations and allow states and tribes to receive funding for reclamation programme.
Image: Entrance to Gold King Mine. Photo: courtesy of EPA.