(BOISE) A federal court in Washington, D.C. heard arguments Wednesday on a challenge brought by the Idaho Conservation League and other environmental groups on a Trump administration rejection of financial assurance requirements for mining companies. While at the Idaho Statehouse, ICL opposes a draft bill that would affect similar state requirements.
Under an Obama-era proposal, the Environmental Protection Agency required “hard rock” mining companies to prove they have sufficient funds to clean up any hazardous pollution that arises due to their actions. Under Trump, the EPA reversed course and declared that new financial assurance rules were not needed. Hard rock mining includes gold, copper, silver, lead and other minerals, but excludes coal.
The Idaho Conservation League, Earthworks, Sierra Club, Amigos Bravos, Great Basin Resource Watch, and Communities for a Better Environment filed its challenge against the EPA with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin argued on behalf of the environmental groups.
“Many mining companies have dug giant holes in the ground, scooped out the valuable minerals and left the area without cleaning up their mess, leaving behind wrecked landscapes and toxic pollution,” said Justin Hayes with the Idaho Conservation League. “Requiring them to set aside money in advance to assure that their pollution is cleaned up is just common sense. It’s like requiring renters to put down a damage deposit.”
Bonnie Gestring, Northwest Program Director for Earthworks said, “Under the Trump Administration, the EPA did a complete ‘180’ on its plans to hold mining companies accountable for their pollution. This was a political decision, first and foremost. By giving the mining industry a free pass on financial assurance protections, communities will live with more pollution and taxpayers will be unfairly burdened by additional clean-up costs.”
In February, an AP examination of public records and independent research showed that more than 50 million gallons of contaminated wastewater streams daily from 43 mining sites under federal oversight.
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. When the Trump administration entered office, the EPA abandoned the proposal for mining companies to set aside funds to pay for possible future mitigation.
In Idaho, state legislators are considering a bill that would affect bonding requirements for surface mines as well as the surface elements of underground mines, such as tailings and polluted wastewater discharges. These bonds would be designed to protect Idaho taxpayers if mining companies are absent, bankrupt or can’t ensure long-term water quality treatment. ICL supports this aspect of the bill. However, bonding required under House Bill 141 could be satisfied with “corporate guarantees” which would be worthless if companies declare bankruptcy. ICL opposes this aspect of the bill because it undermines the intent of bonding – requiring that the form of the bond is sufficient to ensure that money is available if the company goes bankrupt.
Mining companies have a bad reputation for taking the ore, leaving a mess, skipping town and leaving taxpayers with the cleanup costs. HB 141 is now in committee at the Idaho Senate. In Idaho, a recent example of the state having to pay the bill for ongoing cleanup costs can be found in the situation at the Triumph Mine site. This year, the Idaho Department of Environmental had to ask the legislature for additional funding to address ongoing discharges of contaminated water. The mining company left the site years ago and failed to provide the state with sufficient money to cleanup and administer the site for the long haul.
To track HB 141, visit ICL’s bill tracker.