Appeals court upholds EPA move to drop mine pollution rule

July 22, 2019

A U.S. appeals court ruled that a mine pollution rule that would have added significant costs to hard rock mining companies is unnecessary and should not be imposed.

The three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with the Trump administrations in the case of an Obama-era proposal that would have forced mining companies to set aside money to prove they have the resources to clean up pollution from the mine sits. An analysis from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that mining companies would have faced a combined $7.1 billion financial obligation under the rule, costing them up to $171 million annually to set aside sufficient funds to pay for future cleanups, the Associated Press reported.

The case began after the EPA said in December 2017 that stricter regulations and modern mining practices have reduced the risks of pollution going unaddressed.

Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA determined the opposite, saying mining pollution remains an ongoing concern.

The mining industry and members of Congress from Western states had argued the rule was unnecessary because of existing cleanup requirements already enforced at the state and federal level.

The court said it was “unpersuaded” by the environmentalists’ arguments that the Trump administration relied on a faulty economic analysis in making its decision.

“Existing federal and state programs impose significant financial responsibility requirements on the hardrock mining industry,” Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote. “States have changed their financial responsibility requirements to account for the risk of bankruptcy” by companies.
State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past. Environmental groups contend huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today’s mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups.

National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said the court decision recognizes that companies already provide sufficient bonds and other financial assurances to cover cleanup costs.

"We welcome the court’s decision and its recognition that hardrock mines are already subject to significant financial assurance requirements under other federal and state laws,” Hal Quinn, NMA president and chief executive officer said in a statement. “EPA used common sense in its final determination, and we are pleased the court found the agency’s reasoning compelling.”

EPA spokeswoman Maggie Sauerhage said officials were reviewing the ruling.

“In signing the final action in December 2017, EPA was confident that modern industry practices, along with existing state and federal requirements, addressed risks from hardrock mining,” Sauerhage said in a statement.

Since 1980, at least 52 mines and mine processing sites had spills or other releases of pollution, according to documents previously released by the EPA. But the ruling noted that the “vast majority” of EPA spending on hardrock mining cleanups involved contamination from legacy mines, not ongoing operations.
 

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