Monday, December 04, 2017

EPA drops rule requiring hard-rock mining firms to have enough money to clean up their pollution

In this 2015 photo, polluted water from the Gold King Mine disaster flows through retention ponds designed to filter out heavy metals. (Associated Press photo by Brennan Linsley)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Friday that hard-rock mining companies will no longer be required to prove they have the financial means to clean up their pollution, "despite an industry legacy of abandoned mines that have fouled waterways across the U.S.," Matthew Brown reports for The Associated Press. The Obama administration, on its way out in December 2016, proposed to make hard-rock mining companies set aside money for possible cleanup, under a court order after environmental groups sued the government to enforce the long-ignored provision in the 1980 federal Superfund law. In February, Pruitt delayed enforcement of the rule and said he wanted more input from mining companies and other stakeholders.

In Friday's announcement, Pruitt said that more laws were unnecessary because modern mining practices and current state and federal laws already adequately address the risks from mines that are still operating. Requiring more stringent laws "would impose an undue burden on this important sector of the American economy and rural America, where most of these jobs are based," he said.

While Pruitt says the decision will benefit rural residents, pollution from abandoned mines is hurting rural Americans. "The U.S. mining industry has a long history of abandoning contaminated sites and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for cleanups," Brown reports. "Thousands of shuttered mines leak contaminated water into rivers, streams and other waterways, including hundreds of cases in which the EPA has intervened, sometimes at huge expense."

Since 1980, at least 52 mines spilled or otherwise released pollution, according to EPA documents. That includes an abandoned uranium mine that could be causing serious health problems in rural Arizona, and the 2015 Gold King Mine spill in Colorado, in which an EPA cleanup team accidentally caused 3 million gallons of lead and arsenic-tainted water to contaminate rivers in three states. EPA's Office of Inspector General ruled in June that the spill was worse than it should have been because the EPA had no rules for dealing with toxic mines that were prone to blowouts.

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