EPA to Wield Enhanced Power over U.S. Hardrock Mining

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". . .the agency 'has identified the hardrock mining industry as its priority for developing financial assurance requirements.'"

The possibility that the EPA may be gearing up to require mining companies to post financial guarantees for the tons of earth now classified under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) system has struck fear in the financial heart of the U.S. domestic hardrock mining industry.

Although both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service already require financial guarantees from mining companies for mine reclamation and environmental clean-up, the EPA announced Monday that the agency "has identified the hardrock mining industry as its priority for developing financial assurance requirements."

In a news release, EPA said it decided to develop "financial responsibility requirements for classes of facilities within the hardrock mining industry before it did so for other types of facilities. This conclusion is based upon those facilities' sheer size; the enormous quantities of waste and other materials exposed to the environment; the wide range of hazardous substances released to the environment; the number of active hardrock mining facilities; the extent of environmental contamination, including the number of sites identified by EPA as needing cleanup under Superfund's National Priorities List; and government expenditures, projected clean-up costs, and corporate structure and bankruptcy potential."

In a statement published Monday, National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn objected to the EPA's use of TRI data to identify "high risk" facilities. "TRI reports are not an appropriate mechanism for evaluating potential risks posted by reporting facilities," Quinn asserted. He noted that the trace amounts contained in naturally occurring metallic impurities "are not released into the environment and pose no risks."

Quinn also suggested the EPA "ignored other state and federal laws that subject hardrock mining operations to financial responsibility regulations. . .Among other things, reclamation and closure bonds are required by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service for mining operations on federal lands and by state laws and regulations for operations on state and private lands."

Among the hardrock mining facilities to be covered under the proposed regulation are copper, gold, iron, lead, molybdenum, silver, uranium and zinc, and non-metallic, non-fuel minerals such as gypsum, asbestos and silver.

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