Statement on EPA Mining Notice, Senate Reform Hearing

Statement on EPA Mining Notice, Senate Reform Hearing

Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. public lands program, issued the following statement today in response to Monday's Environmental Protection Agency notice that identifies mining as a taxpayer burden and the nation's top polluter, documenting billions spent over the past decade on cleanup of mining industry toxic “mega-sites.” The EPA filing was delivered before today's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee legislative hearing on S. 796, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, introduced by Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to provide overall reform of the 1872 mining law; and S. 140, the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 2009, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to create a dedicated funding source to clean up hazardous abandoned mines. 

“Chairman Bingaman's proposal incorporates the critical elements of reform that will give taxpayers and the environment much needed protections, while ensuring mining continues to play an important role in western states' economies. We also commend Senator Feinstein for introducing a measure that would provide much-needed industry accountability and generate revenue to clean up thousands of hazardous abandoned mines.

“We are pleased that Interior Secretary Salazar expressed support today for reforming the 1872 law. As a former Senator from a mining state and member of this committee, Secretary Salazar can play a key leadership role in moving reform forward.   

“We look forward to working with Senator Bingaman, his House counterpart, Chairman Rahall, and the Obama administration to take swift action during this Congress to bring the Civil War-era mining law into the 21st century.”


On July 10, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submitted to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, a document identifying hardrock mining (a category that includes gold and uranium, among others) as the industrial sector posing the highest financial risk for taxpayer cleanups. A Superfund deadline suit brought by conservation groups compelled EPA to identify types of facilities that require special financial assurance regulations, so that taxpayers do not continue to bear a heavy burden in cleanup costs. After reviewing a variety of factors, EPA chose one industry as top priority for regulation: the hardrock mining industry.  EPA concludes that “hardrock mining facilities are likely to continue to present a substantial financial burden that could be met by financial responsibility requirements.” It also notes the following:

  • “[T]he hardrock mining industry has experienced a pattern of failed operations, which often require significant environmental responses that cannot be financed by industry.”
  • The hardrock mining industry “releases enormous quantities of toxic chemicals”—according to the 2007 Toxic Release Inventory, 28 percent of the total releases by U.S. reporting industries. 
  • EPA estimates the cost of remediating all hardrock mining facilities between $20 and $54 billion.
  • EPA's expenditure data shows that between 1988 and 2007, approximately $2.7 billion was spent on cleanup of hardrock mining facilities, with $2.4 billion going to National Priority List sites. The largest portion of these expenses has been incurred since 1998.