(BOISE) The D.C. Circuit Court decided the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can abandon a rule holding hardrock mine operators financially responsible for toxic and hazardous waste cleanup. 

The Idaho Conservation League, Earthworks, the Sierra Club, Amigos Bravos, Great Basin Resource Watch and Communities for a Better Environment, represented by Earthjustice, sued the EPA in May 2018 to keep financial assurances in place. 

“We’re extremely disappointed in the court’s ruling on financial assurances and the hardrock mining industry,” said Justin Hayes, executive director of the Idaho Conservation League. “Polluting companies should be held accountable for their own actions, instead of burdening hard-working families and taxpayers, especially when public health and safety are threatened by toxic and hazardous waste.”

The EPA proposed a financial responsibility rule for hardrock mining in 2017 after environmental groups petitioned the federal government to fully enforce a provision in Superfund law. The proposal required these mining companies to prove they have sufficient funds to clean up any hazardous pollution that arises due to their actions. Under the Trump administration, the EPA reversed course and abandoned the proposal. Hardrock mining includes gold, copper, silver, lead and other minerals, but excludes coal.

In Idaho, state legislators updated bonding and reclamation requirements for mine operators this year, but allowed “corporate guarantees” to satisfy such requirements. These guarantees would be worthless if mining companies declare bankruptcy.