The EPA Tells Mining Companies Someone Else Can Pay to Clean Up Their Messes [Updated]

Image: Associated Press
Image: Associated Press

EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s crusade against environmental regulations claimed another victim on Friday, when the agency announced it would not require mining companies to prove they have the financial assets to pay for cleaning up their sites.


The rule, first proposed last December by the Obama administration, aimed to ensure that hardrock mining companies—including those mining gold, silver, copper, and lead—could pay for the cost of cleaning up places before they start tearing them apart. As it stands, when these companies can’t afford to take care of spills or other forms of pollution, or when they go bankrupt, taxpayers are often left to foot the bill.

“This proposed rule, once finalized, would move the financial burden from taxpayers, and ensure that industry assumes responsibility for these cleanups,” Mathy Stanislaus, EPA’s former assistant administrator for land programs, said at the time Obama proposed the rule.

How times have changed.

Upon arriving in office in February, Pruitt delayed the rule by extending the comment period—a tactic he has taken with other proposed environmental regulations as well. On Friday, the EPA said that the more than 11,000 comments did not convince the agency that the new regulation was needed, and that the mining industry—which came out strongly against the rule—didn’t have a financial responsibility problem after all.

“After careful analysis of public comments, the statutory authority, and the record for this rulemaking, EPA is confident that modern industry practices, along with existing state and federal requirements address risks from operating hardrock mining facilities,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Additional financial assurance requirements are unnecessary and would impose an undue burden on this important sector of the American economy and rural America, where most of these mining jobs are based.”

You can almost feel Pruitt wanting to namedrop “the war on coal” somewhere in his statement. Unfortunately for him, coal mines are already required to provide assurances that they’ll pay for cleanups under a 1977 federal law.


According to the Associated Press, “the EPA spent $1.1 billion on cleanup work at abandoned hardrock mining and processing sites across the U.S. from 2010 to 2014.” An EPA analysis found that hardrock mining companies would have had to set aside some $171 million annually to pay for future cleanups had the rule—which would have forced companies to obtain some type of bonding or collateral—gone through. The agency also previously determined that the rule could save taxpayers $527 million over the next three decades by reducing the fed’s cleanup costs.

Mining companies cheered Pruitt’s decision, which was required under a court-ordered deadline by December first. The proposed regulations were to be published under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).


“Today’s action shows that reason can prevail,” said Hal Quinn, National Mining Association president and CEO, said in a statement on Friday. “Modern, advanced mining practices—coupled with existing state and federal environmental and financial assurance requirements—comprehensively cover the same risks contemplated under the CERCLA program.”

Republican lawmakers, including Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also cheered the decision. Barrasso called the regulation “duplicative and unnecessary,” saying “states and the federal government already impose similar requirements on America’s hardrock mineral producers.”


Meanwhile, environmental groups found themselves saddled with yet another issue to sue the Trump administration over. Several organizations, including Earthjustice and Earthworks, vowed to take legal action.

“These rules are necessary because new mines are added to the Superfund list almost every year,” Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks said in a statement provided to Earther. “Americans have shouldered enormous mine cleanup costs because these protections are not in effect. It’s galling to see the Trump Administration side with industry over the American taxpayer and the many American communities that live with the toxic pollution from these facilities.”


Update: A previous version of this post included a statement from an outside source that was not properly attributed. The text has been updated to clarify the source of the language and properly attribute it.

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Not to point fingers but this is very telling when a Republican administration chooses to default to either:
A: Allow for unregulated pollution if there is no enforcement of cleanup
B: Stick taxpayers with the cleanup bill

Kind of telling where their priorities are no?