The Environmental Protection Agency is pushing an obscure new regulation that could adversely impact Colorado’s miner- al mines. The issue at hand is whether the EPA should duplicate the require- ments already placed on Colorado mining companies to cover clean-up and recla- mation costs.
Currently, when a mining company wants to extract minerals, it is required to first provide financial assurances that it can cover reclamation, closure and post- closure costs on a mining site. This is often referred to as “bonding.” It certifies that, from the onset of a new project, a mining company can meet its reclamation obligations. Now EPA, responding to a lawsuit brought by activists, wants to increase the financial burden on mining companies by requiring them to lay out additional capital for the same potential costs they’ve already covered.
Like many regulations, this one sounds reasonable—requiring mineral miners to demonstrate the financial ability to clean up anything that could potentially con- taminate land or water from their opera- tions. This ensures that environmental risks are being managed and are paid for by companies, not taxpayers.
In fact, it’s so reasonable that it’s already being done. Potential risks from mineral mines are currently being man- aged by two federal agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. And it works: Since 1990, not a
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
single mine approved by BLM or the Forest Service has become a taxpayer lia- bility under federal law. Together these two agencies hold several billion dollars in so-called financial assurance bonds that more than cover the cost of reclama- tion while enforcing comprehensive regu- lations designed to reduce the risk of haz- ardous releases. Additional sums of money are also held in long-term trusts established to address groundwater quali- ty and other issues that may arise.
Not satisfied to duplicate what these two federal agencies have accomplished, EPA wants to preempt the authority of state regulators who impose their own bonding requirements on mining opera- tions. Today, no mine can be approved for operation without first meeting federal and state requirements covering mine design, operation and closure. That’s why many state regulators and the Western Governors’ Association believe EPA’s duplicative rule is entirely unnecessary—a solution in search of a problem.
With our economic and national secu- rity increasingly dependent on new uses for dozens of metals and minerals, the last thing we need is a new layer of federal regulation that makes U.S. mining more difficult and deepens our already danger- ous dependency on foreign suppliers.
President, American Resources Policy Network Washington, DC