Backyard Problems—the toxic legacy of extractive industries in the West

Aug 11, 2023

Across the West, the legacy of mining and oil and gas extraction has left dozens of toxic messes that have yet to be cleaned up, and pollution and contamination that may never be fully eliminated.

A new report from the Center for Western Priorities, Backyard Problems, looks at a number of these toxic sites to highlight the risks involved with mining and drilling in the West, making a strong case for strengthening environmental safeguards and reforming outdated laws in order to better protect Western communities and the environment. These outdated laws include the 151-year-old General Mining Act of 1872 and the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.

Rachael Hamby, Policy Director at the Center for Western Priorities and one of the report authors said, “Westerners’ backyards are littered with contamination left behind by mining and oil and gas companies that made toxic messes and then walked away. After more than 150 years of mining and drilling, we’ve had more than enough time to learn from the mistakes of the past. Yet when it comes to the laws that govern resource extraction, very little has changed.”

The Biden administration is currently updating federal rules that govern how drilling occurs on public lands, as well as creating a federal rule to better balance conservation with extractive activities on public lands. The report shows why these efforts are necessary and urgent, underscoring that the rules must be enforced to be effective. Finally, the Backyard Problems report makes the case for increasing bonding requirements for both drilling and mining projects so that taxpayers are not stuck with the cleanup costs. “It’s time to bring our laws and policies into the 21st century to protect Western communities and landscapes from irresponsible mining and drilling,” said Hamby.

Tonight! Free Caja del Rio film fest in Santa Fe

Join the Caja del Rio Coalition in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a free film screening and panel with local leaders to discuss opportunities and challenges for protecting the Caja del Rio. In addition to the other films, you’ll have the opportunity to watch our 5-minute Postcard film about some of the leaders behind the effort to protect the Caja del Rio on a big screen. Can’t make it to Santa Fe this evening? There will be another film screening event next Friday, August 18 in Albuquerque. Details and registration info for both events can be found at

Quick hits

Editorial: Colorado agency permitting Suncor pollution is derelict in its duty to protect people and environment

Denver Post

Locally-led effort to block trains carrying crude oil through Colorado advances to litigation

Colorado Newsline

Second gentleman visits Grand Teton to announce $44 million in restoration and climate resilience funds for the park service

Local News 8 | Clean Technica

Study: More than 1 million acres of Indigenous land flooded by dams in U.S.

The Guardian | The Hill

Hawaii wildfires tragic example of danger posed by nonnative fire-prone grasses

Washington Post

Backyard Problems—the toxic legacy of extractive industries in the West

Interactive Storymap | Center for Western Priorities

Bad actor suspected in Yellowstone brook trout discovery


Opinion: The West has a checkerboard problem

Palm Desert Sun

Quote of the day

It’s like throwing a ton of weeds in your backyard and then planting a couple of really fragile plants. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of more invasive grasses and more wildfire.”

—Lisa Ellsworth, an associate professor of fire ecology at Oregon State University who has studied the invasive grasses in Hawaii, Washington Post

Picture This

Two brownish-tan and white pronghorn look out into the distance. They are very alert with their ears sticking straight up, listening for predators.



These pronghorn fawn siblings are growing up fast. Speaking of fast, pronghorns are the fastest North American land mammals and can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour! There are no predators that can match their speed today, so it’s thought that they evolved to outrun the extinct American cheetah.

Wait a second…an American cheetah?

The American cheetah was closely related to the modern cougar but had many adaptations for swift running, like the African cheetah. Paleontologists believe that the American cheetah was once the main predator of the pronghorn, which would explain why the modern pronghorn can run at speeds much faster than what would be needed to escape its modern predators.

Photo at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge by Tom Koerner / @USFWS

#pronghorn #wildlife #publiclands

Featured image: The Berkeley Pit and Montana Resources mines in Butte, Montana. Source: NASA