The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would not act on a proposal to require hardrock mining companies to show they can afford to clean up their sites, a decision that was welcomed by many in the mining industry including the National Mining Association (NMA) which called the proposed rule duplicative.
“EPA is confident that modern industry practices, along with existing state and federal requirements address risks from operating hardrock mining facilities,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.
Reuters reported that the financial responsibility proposal, issued by the administration of President Barack Obama, was supported by Democrats and environmental groups, but opposed by the mining industry and Republicans.
The rule would have required companies mining metals such as gold, silver, copper and lead to show they had the financial means to clean up their sites once they finished mining by issuing bonds or buying insurance. It was partly aimed at taking the burden off Washington to clean up sites when miners declare bankruptcy. The litigation stems from environmental groups which sought to use the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund Law) to impose the additional regulations.
It represents the latest move by Pruitt, an appointee of President Donald Trump, to reverse or weaken a series of regulatory actions by the Obama administration, often at the request of the affected industries.
The agency faced a court-ordered deadline of Friday, Dec. 1 to take final action on the proposal.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska who chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, praised the decision.
“I’m pleased the EPA took all of the facts into consideration and decided against imposing new, duplicative and burdensome financial assurance requirements for hardrock mines,” Murkowski said in a statement.
The NMA also praised the decision, saying in a statement, “When litigation is used as a tool to attempt to force the government into unnecessary action against an industry, the result is bad policy,” said Hal Quinn, NMA president and chief executive officer. “Today’s action shows that reason can prevail. 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.
“At a time when America is completely import-dependent for many key minerals, we should be supporting domestic mining and encouraging investment in the U.S. to lessen our dependence on foreign supply chains,” added Quinn.
The NMA’s comments on the EPA report included a detailed critique of the EPA practice report that was prepared by the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME). The reports submitted by SME helped rebut the EPA’s prior characterization (under the Obama administration) of the duration and degree of risk associated with modern hardrock mining.