Bennet, Senate Democrats: EPA Putting Taxpayers on the Hook for Hard Rock Mining Disasters

Eight senators condemn Pruitt’s refusal to require financial assurances from hard rock mining companies, letting polluters off scot free after spills like Gold King

Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with seven other Senate Democrats, sent a letter condemning Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt's decision not to issue final federal financial responsibility requirements for hard rock mining operations, leaving taxpayers on the hook for cleaning up toxic spills from metal mining - the single largest source of toxic releases, according to the EPA.

The proposed rules would have assured that mining companies maintain enough funds to clean up and prevent toxic releases during operation and after mining is complete. However, Pruitt decided not to implement these common-sense rules, refusing to comply with the EPA's legal obligations as established under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), and as affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Bennet and the senators said that the EPA's decision flouts the clear intent of Congress that polluters should bear the full responsibility for cleaning up their hazardous waste.

In the letter to Pruitt, the senators wrote that the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which released millions of gallons of waste in the Animas and San Juan rivers, shows the devastating impact that hard rock mining disasters can have on surrounding communities. Yet, the senators wrote, the EPA's decision will continue to create the conditions for these releases and ensure that taxpayers will continue to pay the price for these disastrous spills.

"The EPA has allowed the mining industry to make empty promises about securing bonding and other financial assurances for nearly forty years while at the same time shifting the burden and costs for hazardous waste cleanup to the American taxpayers," the senators wrote.

As the senators noted, the EPA's own estimates show that financial responsibility requirements would prevent over $500 million in costs to the federal taxpayer. "EPA's failure to require financial assurances from the hard rock mining industry has contributed to over $50 billion in remediation costs while funding for the Superfund program continues to shrink," the senators wrote.

"Congress was clear when it created CERCLA that polluters should bear the responsibility for cleaning up hazardous wastes and companies must prove up-front that they have the funds to cover the cleanup costs, including unanticipated spills and accidents," the senators continued. "Many mining operations are owned by multi-national corporations headquartered outside of the U.S. and the mining industry is notorious for filing for bankruptcy, leaving the American taxpayers on the hook. Providing liability shielding for companies who have created thousands of hazardous waste sites across America contravenes Congress' intent of ‘polluter pays.'"

Earlier this year, Bennet introduced legislation to modernize the nation's antiquated hardrock mining laws. He has worked with the EPA to clean up abandoned mines and prevent future disasters like the Gold King Mine spill.

The full letter to Pruitt can be found HERE.