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EPA publishes notice identifying hardrock mining industry for financial responsibility requirements (7/13)

July 13, 2009
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EPA has identified the hardrock mining industry as its priority for developing financial assurance requirements. Financial assurance requirements help ensure that owners and operators of these facilities, not taxpayers, foot the bill for environmental cleanup. These requirements will be developed under section 108(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly called “Superfund.” EPA plans to propose the rule by spring of 2011. The agency will publish a notice of this priority in the Federal Register, which is the first step toward developing the requirements.

The priority notice identifying hardrock mining also satisfies a court order issued by the United States District Court.

Financial assurance requirements can promote responsible environmental practices within industries. Since Congress enacted Superfund in 1980, EPA has spent billions of dollars to clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

EPA 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.

Hardrock mining facilities include those that extract, beneficiate and process metals (e.g., copper, gold, iron, lead, magnesium, molybdenum, silver, uranium, and zinc) and non-metallic, non-fuel minerals (e.g., asbestos, gypsum, phosphate rock, and sulfur). Coal mining facilities are not hardrock mining facilities and are not included in EPA’s priority notice.

The agency plans to examine other industries outside of the hardrock mining industry that also may warrant the development of financial responsibility requirements under Superfund by the end of the year. EPA plans to examine, at a minimum, the following classes of facilities: hazardous waste generators, hazardous waste recyclers, metal finishers, wood treatment facilities, and chemical manufacturers. This list may be revised as the agency’s evaluation proceeds. EPA is scheduled to publish the notice addressing additional classes of facilities the agency plans to evaluate by December 2009. At that time, the agency will solicit public comment.

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