EPA Proposes Financial Requirements for Clean-Up at Hardrock Mining Facilities

Mathy Stanislaus Mathy Stanislaus

By Mathy Stanislaus

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, better known as the Superfund law) protects human health and the environment by managing the cleanup of the nation’s most contaminated lands and by responding to locally and nationally significant environmental emergencies. To further CERCLA’s mission, we are proposing a rule that will reduce taxpayer costs at hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities.

Historically, hardrock-mining facilities have generated large quantities of hazardous substances, often over hundreds of square miles. In some instances, releases have resulted in groundwater and surface water contamination that require long-term management and treatment, which can be costly. For example, between 2010 and 2014 alone, EPA spent $1.1 billion in removal and remedial response costs at hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities, and taxpayer funds contributed to much of this amount. This has been the case for decades, with industry players leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for environmental cleanups.

It’s time for a change. Our latest proposed rulemaking ensures that future polluters are better prepared to pay. Under the rule, owners and operators at certain hardrock-mining and mineral-processing facilities would be required to make financial arrangements that address the risks from hazardous substances at these facilities. Additionally, they would still have to pay the agreed-upon amount if the company closes its doors.

Specifically, owners and operators of facilities subject to the proposed rule would be required to:

  • Use the formula provided in the rule to calculate a level of financial responsibility for their facility, and provide supporting documentation for their calculation;
  • Obtain a means of covering this financial responsibility through insurance, guarantee, surety bond, letter of credit, qualification as a self-insurer, or any combination of these instruments to demonstrate to EPA that they have obtained such evidence of financial responsibility; and
  • Update and maintain the rule until EPA releases them from the CERCLA §108(b) regulations.

This proposal, was developed after extensive consultation with stakeholders, including small and large businesses, industry groups, environmental groups, and state and tribal governments.

These requirements are not meant to duplicate existing financial responsibility requirements. EPA’s proposed CERCLA 108(b) regulations will be stand-alone financial responsibility requirements that address CERCLA liability. There are significant differences between these requirements and other existing requirements for hardrock mining facilities. In particular:

  • the proposed rule does not include technical requirements regulating the operation, closure, or reclamation of hardrock mining facilities;
  • the proposed rule does not provide financial responsibility to ensure closure or reclamation requirements made applicable to hardrock mining  facilities through a permit;
  • the proposed rule is not intended to preempt state or local mining reclamation and closure requirements; and
  • the proposed rule is distinct from federal closure and reclamation bonding requirements imposed under other statutes.
  • Facilities that apply environmentally protective practices, including those required by other regulations, may be able to reduce their required amount of CERCLA 108(b) financial responsibility.

Additionally, we are publishing a notice describing the Agency’s plan to consider financial assurance requirements under CERCLA for three additional industries:

  • Chemical manufacturing;
  • Electric power generation, transmission and distribution; and
  • Petroleum and coal products.

The notice is not a determination that regulatory financial assurance requirements are necessary. We will evaluate a broad range of options in consultation with stakeholders including state and tribal governments, industry groups, and environmental groups before making such determinations. Our future activities will consist of information collection regarding each sector and an evaluation of the modern practices of these industries.This rule, and the consideration of others for additional industries, all starts with our fundamental desire to prevent the same kind of environmental contamination that has been plaguing American lands and dipping into taxpayer pockets for decades.

A pre-publication version of the proposed rulemaking is available at:
https://www.epa.gov/superfund/pre-publication-copy-proposed-financial-responsibility-requirements-under-cercla-section

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Insects as Indicators

By Marguerite Huber

Twelve spotted skimmer dragonfly perched on a reed.

Twelve-spotted skimmer. Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Scientists have developed ways to use certain species as kinds of “living barometers” for monitoring the quality of the environment. By studying the abundance, presence, and overall health of such indicator species, they gain insight into the general condition of the environment. Now, EPA researchers are developing ways to use insects in this way to explore the effects of environmental contamination and how it might spread across a watershed.

The Superfund program, established by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, identifies sites that contain hazardous substances, such as pollutants and contaminants, that may pose a threat to human health or the environment.

Superfund sites include former landfills, industrial and military complexes, and abandoned mines.

In their study, EPA researchers sought to determine if insect communities could be used to measure the benefits of Superfund site clean-up and to monitor the effectiveness of site remediation and restoration. To be accurate, they also had to account for the differences between impacts from Superfund contaminants, and those related to urbanization.

The researchers compared a number of indicators related to urbanization, such as land development, housing unit density, and road density.

In the end, the researchers found that once they had accounted for the effects of urban development, they were able to use insects as indicators for detecting the effects of Superfund sites in the watershed. Using what they learned from that work, they also developed models that can discriminate the effects of Superfund activities from those of development upstream, and help identify those streams where impacts exceed what would be expected based solely on the amount of development across a watershed. Researchers and others can also use the models to assess the effectiveness of remediation efforts at contaminated sites.

Overall, developing methods to tap insects as indicators is helping EPA researchers understand how Superfund sites affect entire watersheds. It’s a big step toward cleaning them up and helping EPA fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment.

About the Author: Marguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.