Toxics Release Inventory illustrates why EPA must protect taxpayers from mining cleanup costs
Jan 6th, Washington, D.C. — Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the metal mining industry as the nation’s largest toxic polluter. The metal mining industry reported the release of 1.9 billion pounds of toxic chemicals in 2011, according to EPA’s annual Toxics Release Inventory, or 46% of all reported toxics.
“Billions of pounds of pollution requires billions of dollars to clean up,” said Earthworks’ Strategic Communications Director Alan Septoff. He continued, “If the EPA doesn’t act soon to require cleanup bonds, taxpayers could be paying the cleanup bill instead of the polluting mining companies. Meanwhile, our nation’s rivers, streams, air and land remain at risk.”
The EPA was court-ordered in 2009 to issue financial assurance requirements for the metal mining industry to protect taxpayers against clean-up costs under its CERCLA authority. Yet, the EPA has recently postponed the draft rule release date until 2014. Financial assurance is intended to guarantee that mining companies provide funding up front to demonstrate that mine clean-up will occur if the company is unable or unwilling to do so. Some states don’t require adequate, or any, financial assurance (aka bonds) for mine reclamation and closure.
“Idaho’s Lucky Friday mine reported 17 million pounds of toxic releases in 2011 and will require long-term water treatment when it closes,” said Earthworks’ Northwest Circuit Rider Bonnie Gestring. She continued, “Idaho doesn’t require a bond for underground mines, so taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $100 million in mine clean-up costs at this mine alone.” Hecla, the mining company behind the Lucky Friday mine, has previously experienced financial problems.*
The metal mining industry has been the nation’s largest toxic polluter every year since it was required to report its releases to the TRI in 1997. The metal mining industry accounts for the vast majority of toxic releases, such as:
- arsenic – 334 million pounds or 97% of all releases,
- lead – 724 million pounds or 93% of all releases, and
- mercury – 5 million pounds or 93% of all releases, among others.
Over 500 mines are listed in the EPA’s CERCLA program, and the EPA estimates the current liability to taxpayers at $50 billion.
“What’s fair is fair,” said Bonnie Gestring Earthwork’s northwest circuit rider. She continued, “Taxpayers should not be shouldering the cost of mine clean-up. We need these rules to hold mining companies accountable for their own pollution.
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*NOTE: An earlier version of this release incorrectly indicated that Hecla Mining had at one point been bankrupt.