The Trump administration will no longer require mining companies to prove they have the means to clean up the pollution left in their wake, despite a long history of contamination.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a December 1 deadline to take action on an Obama-era proposal which would have required hardrock mining companies to prove they had the financial means to clean up mining sites. The proposal was met with opposition from mining groups and Republican lawmakers in western states.
EPA administrator and climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt claimed that safe-checking mining companies with a long history of pollution was unnecessary, and would “impose an undue burden.” Pruitt, who sued the EPA 14 times when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, said modern mining techniques and existing rules are enough to keep the risk of pollution at bay.
One might confront Pruitt with the disaster, caused by EPA itself, when members of the Environmental Protection Agency looking into pollutants at an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado accidently unleashed around a million gallons of polluted water with their heavy machinery into the pristine Animas River.
“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.
The EPA decided “the degree and duration of risk associated with the modern production, transportation, treatment, storage or disposal of hazardous substances by the hardrock mining industry does not present a level of risk of taxpayer funded response actions that warrant imposition of financial responsibility requirements for this sector.”
Thousands of closed mines have contaminated water in the US, and the EPA spent $1.4 billion on mining cleanups between 2010 and 2014, AP reports. The EPA’s own documents report at least 52 mines and their processing sites have had spills and pollution releases since 1980.
The cleanup proposal, which would have targeted companies mining iron, copper, lead and other hard metals, was issued following a court order last December, after the US government was sued by environmental groups over its failure to enforce a provision of the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund), section 108(b).
The obligation was a way to “move the financial burden from taxpayers and ensure that industry assumes responsibility for these cleanups,” EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus said at the time. Coal mining companies are already required to provide cleanup guarantees thanks to a 1977 law.