EPA scuttles rule on mining cleanup funding

EPA scuttles rule on mining cleanup funding
© Greg Nash

The Trump administration said Friday it will not issue a regulation to ensure that hard-rock mining companies can pay for the costs to clean up their mines when they’re finished.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the decision late Friday, reversing from a proposal that the Obama administration had issued a year ago.

The hard-rock mining financial responsibility proposal was opposed by the mining industry, Republicans and some red states, but supported by Democrats and environmentalists.

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It would have applied to companies mining non-coal minerals such as gold, silver, copper or lead, requiring them to demonstrate financial responsibility through means like bonds or insurance.

“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,” EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWith offshore drilling scheme, Trump's America looks like a banana republic Overnight Energy: California regulators vote to close nuclear plant | Watchdog expands Pruitt travel probe | Washington state seeks exemption from offshore drilling plan Overnight Regulation: Fight erupts over gun export rules | WH meets advocates on prison reform | Officials move to allow Medicaid work requirements | New IRS guidance on taxes MORE 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,” he said.

It is the latest in a long line of regulatory actions Pruitt has taken to undo or weaken Obama administration actions, usually at the behest of the industries that would be impacted.

Pruitt heeded industry complaints in February, shortly after taking office, by delaying the rule and extending the comment period by four months. Two months later, he spoke to a National Mining Association meeting in Florida, according to his publicly released schedule.

A 1980 law required the EPA to examine the need for a hard-rock mining financial rule, and the Obama administration entered into a settlement that set as deadline of this month to make a final decision.

The rule was meant in part to reduce the burden on the federal government to clean up abandoned mines when their owners aren’t able to or declare bankruptcy.

The EPA said Friday that after examining the more than 11,000 comments it received and analyzing how the mining industry operates, it found that the industry does not have a financial responsibility problem that requires regulation.

The mining industry cheered Pruitt’s decision.

“Today’s action shows that reason can prevail,” Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said in a statement. “Modern, advanced mining practices — coupled with existing state and federal environmental and financial assurance requirements — comprehensively cover the same risks contemplated under the [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act] program.”

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump’s infrastructure plan may slip to next month Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism Trump's infrastructure team to huddle with senators MORE (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Environment and Pubic Works Committee, joined in.

“This mining rule would have cost jobs and hurt Wyoming’s economy. It was duplicative and unnecessary. States and the federal government already impose similar requirements on America’s hardrock mineral producers,” he said in a statement. “I am pleased that the Trump administration decided this rule was not needed.”