The recent flooding of toxic waste into the Animas River in Colorado from a nearby mine has many asking, why isn’t the mining company paying for the cleanup? The reason is a little-known federal law from 1872 that prevents mining companies from responsibility of damages that they cause to public lands in the extraction of resources.

“Under this outdated law, mining companies are able to extract billions of dollars of minerals on America’s public lands essentially for free, often with no liability for environmental cleanup,” said Claire Moser, with the Center for American Progress, to ClimateProgress. “The Animas spill disaster highlights the broader need for reform of this 143-year-old law to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair share of publicly-owned resources and that mining companies are responsible for cleanup.”

You would think a 100-plus-year-old law that allows corporations to pillage public lands, and walk away, would be an easy loophole to plug, but you’d be wrong. Efforts to pass legislation to close the mining waste gap have been ongoing since 2007. Due to the fact that the legislation has not received Republican support, it has died in Congress.