Following a court order and Congressional directive under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the EPA is proposing financial responsibility requirements for the hardrock mining industry.
Taxpayers spent $1.1 billion on cleanup in four years
This proposal would require that owners and operators of certain classes of hardrock mines and mineral processing facilities show financial ability to address risks from hazardous substances. Since the 1980s, EPA has spent considerable resources cleaning up contamination from hardrock mines. The most recent analysis, from 2010 to 2014, shows that the Agency spent nearly $1.1 billion on response and cleanup actions on hardrock mining and mineral processing sites.
“Far too often the American people bear the costs of expensive environmental cleanups stemming from hardrock mining and mineral processing,” said Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the agency’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. “This proposed rule, once finalized, would move the financial burden from taxpayers, and ensure that industry assumes responsibility for these cleanups. The proposed rule would also give companies an economic incentive to use environmentally protective practices that can help prevent future releases.”
How it came about
This proposal is the result of many years of incremental steps since the Agency identified hard rock mining as the first sector for development of these regulations. The Agency extensively consulted with stakeholders, including small businesses, industry groups, environmental groups, and state and tribal governments.
These proposed requirements complement existing financial responsibility requirements. Facilities that apply environmentally protective practices—including those required by other regulations—may be able to reduce their required amount of financial responsibility under the proposed rule.
In addition, as requested by Congress, EPA published a market capacity study to examine the availability of financial responsibility instruments for this proposal. The study illustrated the likely probability of sufficient providers and capacity to meet requirements of a future CERCLA 108(b) regulation for hardrock mining.
Other industries could face same
In a separate action, the EPA Administrator also signed a Regulatory Determination Notice stating the agency’s determination to issue notices of proposed rulemaking on similar financial responsibility requirements for three additional industries: chemical manufacturing; electric power generation, transmission and distribution; and petroleum and coal products manufacturing. This notice is not a determination that regulatory financial assurance requirements are necessary for any of these three industries. The notice explains that EPA intends to move forward with the regulatory process, which will determine what, if any, financial responsibility requirements are necessary for these industries.
The hardrock mining proposal and the notice on determination for additional classes of industries will be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks. The proposal will be available for public comment for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register. EPA invites stakeholders and the public to share their expertise by providing comments on the proposed rule for the hard rock mining industry during the public comment period. EPA is not establishing a public comment period on the Regulatory Determination Notice.
A pre-publication version of the rule is available for review at: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-financial-responsibility.
A pre-publication version of the Regulatory Determination Notice for additional industries may be viewed at: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-financial-responsibility.