Monday, July 13, 2009

EPA wants hardrock mining's financial assurance

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday announced it had identified the hardrock mining industry as its priority for financial assurance rules to ensure that the owners and operators of such, not taxpayers, foot the bill for environmental cleanups.

The announcement preceeds the development of a EPA rules under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, commonly called “Superfund.”

EPA plans to propose the rule by spring of 2011.

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

In its announcement, EPA noted that, since the enactment of the Superfund law in 1980, the federal government has spent billions of dollars to clean up uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. EPA said it decided to develop financial responsibility requirements for classes of facilities within the hardrock mining industry first because of

"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. "

The agency clarified that 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 says it 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."

At a minimum, the agency said it would be looking at:
  • hazardous waste generators,

  • hazardous waste recyclers

  • metal finishers

  • wood treatment facilities, and

  • chemical manufacturers.
EPA said it is scheduled to publish the notice addressing additional classes of facilities by December 2009. At that time, the agency will solicit public comment.

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