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BOISE, Idaho – The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it's scrapping rules drafted during the Obama administration that require hard-rock mining companies to clean up their own messes.
The rule made sure companies that mine for gold, copper and other non-coal minerals had enough money set aside to tidy up abandoned mines left in their wake.
Justin Hayes, program director for the Idaho Conservation League, says this will have an impact on western states such as Idaho that have large hard-rock mines. "This was an attempt to have a unifying, national program so there would be standards to ensure that every company in the nation had enough money set aside to clean up its mess in the event of a bankruptcy, and taxpayers are now going to be on the hook for lots of cleanups," he explains.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt says the rule is redundant and unnecessary. Hayes says the current hodgepodge of state and federal programs requiring cleanup don't help out enough to get the job done. The rule was drafted last December after environmental groups sued the government so that it would enforce a provision in the 1980 federal Superfund law. Coal mining companies have been required under federal law to provide assurances they can clean up after themselves since 1977. Hayes notes that mining companies leave messes behind all the time. "It's just another example of how this administration and this EPA is going to protect corporate profits and polluters over the environment," he laments.
According to the National Mining Association, hard-rock mines produced more than $26 billion worth of metals in 2015. The EPA says about 220 of those mines in 2015 would have been subjected to this rule.