EPA seeks to ensure mining companies can pay cleanup costs

EPA seeks to ensure mining companies can pay cleanup costs
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule Friday aimed at ensuring that hard-rock mining companies can pay the costs to clean up their mines.

Under the regulation, companies mining noncoal minerals like gold, silver, copper or lead would have to demonstrate to the EPA that they can afford cleanup costs once the mine is closed, through mechanisms like bonds, insurance or self-insurance.

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The amount of money a company would be responsible for would be determined by an EPA formula.

“Far too often the American people bear the costs of expensive environmental cleanups stemming from hard-rock mining and mineral processing,” Mathy Stanislaus, the EPA’s assistant administrator for land programs, said in a Friday statement.

“This proposed rule, once finalized, would move the financial burden from taxpayers, and ensure that industry assumes responsibility for these cleanups,” he said.

The administration of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump calls Sri Lankan prime minister following church bombings Ex-Trump lawyer: Mueller knew Trump had to call investigation a 'witch hunt' for 'political reasons' The biggest challenge from the Mueller Report depends on the vigilance of everyone MORE could potentially change the rule before it is made final. But the EPA is under a court order to publish a final rule on the subject by December 2017.

If a company goes bankrupt or is otherwise unable to pay mine cleanup costs, the federal government is often responsible for the effort.

Financial assurance rules were ordered by a 1980 law, but the EPA did not take formal regulatory action until now.

The EPA estimated that the hard-rock mining industry’s financial responsibilities could add up to $7.1 billion. The rule could save taxpayers $527 million over the next three decades due to the federal government’s reduced cleanup costs.

The mining industry slammed the Friday proposal.

“This rule is unnecessary, redundant and poorly constructed, and exemplifies all the problems of rushed rulemaking from an outgoing administration,” Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said in a statement. “Current programs already address the risks of mining and mineral processing sites, and prevent these sites from becoming a Superfund liability, rendering this rule unnecessary.”

The mining group accused the EPA of conducting “little to no” consultation with the industry in writing its rule, which the industry says overstates the risks of modern mining technology.

The EPA is taking comments on the proposal for 60 days.