EPA ad­justs cleanup rules

Mines would be re­quired to have funds for pol­lu­tion

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Matthew Brown

billings, mont.» The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency said Fri­day it plans to re­quire min­ing com­pa­nies to show they have the fi­nan­cial where­withal to clean up their pol­lu­tion so tax­pay­ers aren’t stuck foot­ing the bill.

The pro­posal fol­lows a 2015 court or­der for the govern­ment to en­force a longig­nored pro­vi­sion in the 1980 fed­eral Su­per­fund law.

The re­quire­ment would ap­ply to hard-rock min­ing, which in­cludes mines for pre­cious met­als, cop­per, iron, lead and other ores. It would cover mines in 38 states, re­quir­ing their own­ers to set aside suf­fi­cient money to pay for fu­ture cleanups.

The EPA is con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar re­quire­ments for chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers, power gen­er­a­tion com­pa­nies and the petroleum re­fin­ing and coal man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries.

From 2010 to 2013, the EPA spent $1.1 bil­lion on cleanup work at aban­doned hard-rock min­ing and pro­cess­ing sites across the U.S.

The new rule “would move the fi­nan­cial bur­den from tax­pay­ers and en­sure that in­dus­try as­sumes re­spon­si­bil­ity for these cleanups,” said EPA as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor Mathy Stanis­laus.

Con­tam­i­nated wa­ter from mine sites can flow into rivers and other wa­ter­ways, harm­ing aquatic life and threat­en­ing drink­ing wa­ter sup­plies. Com­pa­nies in the past avoided cleanup costs in many cases by declar­ing bank­ruptcy.

Last year, an EPA cleanup team ac­ci­den­tally trig­gered a 3-mil­lion-gal­lon spill of con­tam­i­nated wa­ter from Colorado’s in­ac­tive Gold King mine, taint­ing rivers in three states with heavy met­als in­clud­ing arsenic and lead.

The Na­tional Min­ing As­so­ci­a­tion said the new rule was “un­nec­es­sary, re­dun­dant and poorly con­structed,” be­cause ex­ist­ing pro­grams pre­vent mines from be­com­ing Su­per­fund sites.

The group ac­cused govern­ment of­fi­cials of over­stat­ing the po­ten­tial risks from mod­ern min­ing tech­niques, in a rushed at­tempt to put a new rule in place be­fore Pres­i­dent Barack Obama leaves the White House next month.

U.S. House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee chair­man Rob Bishop of Utah and En­ergy Com­mit­tee chair­man Fred Upton of Michi­gan voiced sim­i­lar con­cerns. The Repub­li­cans said pro­grams in place at the state level al­ready en­sure the en­vi­ron­ment is pro­tected and pre­dicted the EPA pro­posal would re­sult in a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar obli­ga­tion for the min­ing in­dus­try.

In doc­u­ments re­leased with the new rule, the EPA said that since 1980, at least 52 mines and mine pro­cess­ing sites us­ing mod­ern tech­niques had spills or other re­leases of pol­lu­tion.

There are about 300 hardrock mines in the U.S. Com­bined they pro­duced about $26.6 bil­lion worth of met­als last year, ac­cord­ing to min­ing as­so­ci­a­tion se­nior vice pres­i­dent Ash­ley Burke. The agency took the first step to­ward seek­ing fi­nan­cial as­sur­ances on cleanups from hard-rock min­ing com­pa­nies in 2010 in re­sponse to a suit from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

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