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.

Superfund Turns 35

By James Woolford

December 11 marks the 35th anniversary of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act—better known as Superfund—that President Jimmy Carter signed into law in 1980. Anniversaries are good occasions to look back on what’s been accomplished. For Superfund’s 35th anniversary, we chose the theme 35 Years, 35 Stories to give people across the country an opportunity to reflect on the difference Superfund cleanups have made in their communities.

From the 35 stories on our website, you will hear again and again how cleaning up a hazardous waste site signaled a community’s new beginning. You’ll hear how protecting human health and the environment makes a positive difference in people’s lives. You’ll hear how a clean environment and a thriving economy go hand in hand in making a better community.

Take for example, the Kansas City Structural Steel site in Kansas. The former steel plant was shut down in the 1980s, leaving behind contamination and hundreds of unemployed workers. A blighted spot in the community for years, the site was cleaned up and made suitable for redevelopment. As part of our 35 Years, 35 Stories series, you’ll learn more about how the site came to be the location for a Walmart Neighborhood Market in the underserved Argentine neighborhood.

You’ll also hear from Alex Mandell, a community involvement coordinator in our Philadelphia regional office, about land restoration around the Palmerton Zinc site in Pennsylvania. Beginning in the early 1900s and continuing for 80 years, zinc smelters released heavy metals into the surrounding area’s land and waters. The smelting activities eventually denuded over 2000 acres of land on the Blue Mountain near the Appalachian Trail. Superfund activities included cleaning up residential yards and surface water, as well as extensive replanting of native vegetation. The land now is a thriving native prairie and home to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, where both wildlife and the public can enjoy the open space.

I’ve spent most of my career involved in one aspect or another with the Superfund program. During the early years of my career, I was involved with Superfund enforcement, and I later oversaw federal facility site cleanups when I headed up EPA’s Federal Facility Restoration and Reuse Office. Nine years ago, on Superfund’s 26th anniversary, December 11, 2006, I became the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation’s director. What keeps me inspired every day is the fulfillment I realize working in a program that makes a visible difference in people’s lives.

The 35 stories we’ve captured for the 35th anniversary of Superfund are just a portion of the environmental and economic restoration work occurring across the country. There are many more stories to be told.

About the author: James Woolford is the Director of the Office of Superfund Restoration and Technology Innovation.

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.