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Interior Dept. announces more funding for legacy pollution cleanups

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
NPS / Jacob W. Frank
NPS / Jacob W. Frank
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

The Interior Department has announced new funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to clean up polluted areas and conserve ecosystems. Nearly $10 million will go towards 17 projects, including several in the Mountain West.

In a recent Instagram Live interview highlighting federal efforts to tackle legacy pollution, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said many of the sites her department is focusing on are former milling or mining operations.

“They jeopardize public health and safety. They contaminate groundwater, emit noxious gasses, litter the landscape with rusted and dangerous equipment, create flooding and sinkhole risks and harm wildlife,” Haaland said.

This most recent funding round includes projects that will clean stream beds and wetlands around watersheds damaged by mining runoff and groundwater pollution. Some sites are near Animas Forks, Colorado; Caselton, Nevada; and Deming, New Mexico.

Another effort will restore stream beds for aquatic habitats vital to endangered trout species in locations like Rich County, Utah, and Humboldt County, Nevada.

The Interior Department also announced more funding earlier this summer to restore and enhance ecosystems and plug abandoned oil and gas wells. Haaland said the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is the largest investment in addressing legacy pollution in American history.

“I know firsthand what it looks like to have a toxic abandoned mine in my community,” she said. “I've seen families struggle with the health impacts of that danger and what happens when companies essentially walk away from their responsibilities.”

Haaland also said these projects will bring good-paying jobs to rural communities.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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