Environmental groups challenged the Trump administration in federal court today over its rejection of an Obama-era proposal that would have required mining companies to prove they have enough money to clean up their pollution.
An attorney for the environmental groups said the reversal under Trump leaves taxpayers responsible into the future for mining pollution that fouls waterways and endangers public health. The mining industry responded with a pledge to intervene in the case on behalf of the administration.
The proposal applied to "hard-rock" mines that extract gold, iron, lead and other minerals, but not coal.
The mining industry and members of Congress from Western states had pushed to kill the rule, arguing it was unnecessary because of existing cleanup requirements already enforced at the state and federal level.
During the tenure of former President Barack Obama, the EPA determined the opposite that mining pollution remains an ongoing concern and companies should be required to provide "financial assurances" such as surety bonds for possible cleanup projects.
There is a long legacy of taxpayer-funded mine cleanups at many sites where companies went bankrupt and abandoned polluted sites.
Trump's EPA "just waved their hands at all their prior findings and offered some really flimsy rationale for why they shouldn't be considered," said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin, who represents the environmental groups. "It's a thinly veiled handout to the mining industry."
An industry representative rejected the group's claims and said the federal government should be doing more to encourage domestic mining, not imposing rules that duplicate existing regulations.
"The EPA's decision not to impose unnecessary additional financial burdens on the hard-rock industry was a step in the right direction that should and will be defended," said National Mining Association Senior Vice President Ashley Burke.
EPA representatives did not immediately respond telephone and email requests seeking comment.
Hard-rock mining companies would have faced a combined $7.1 billion financial obligation under the Obama era rule, costing them up to $171 million annually to set aside sufficient funds to pay for future cleanups, according to an EPA analysis. Since 1980, at least 52 mines and mine processing sites had spills or other releases of pollution, according to documents previously released by the EPA.
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