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U.S. EPA proposes rule requiring mines to cover clean-up costs

From MPR News

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new financial responsibility rule for the hard rock mining industry, aimed at ensuring that taxpayers aren't left on the hook for potentially expensive mine clean-ups.

The rule would require mining companies to demonstrate their ability to pay for clean-up costs by using financial instruments such as trust funds, bonds or letters of credit. It would cover copper, gold, iron ore and other kinds of hard rock mines under the federal Superfund law — but not coal operations.

In a statement announcing the proposal, the EPA argued that by moving the financial risk from taxpayers, the rule would give mining companies "an economic incentive to use environmentally protective practices that can help prevent future release."

The EPA reports it spent nearly $1.1 billion between 2010 and 2014 on response and clean up actions at mines and mineral processing sites.

The agency estimates the rule would affect 221 facilities nationwide, including 14 in Minnesota, the third-most of any state.

Frank Ongaro, with the industry group Mining Minnesota, said Minnesota already has comprehensive financial assurance rules for copper-nickel mines.

"This will result in no benefit to a project, no benefit to the environment, no benefit to the taxpayers," he said. "It will add nothing but cost and chase away investment."

It's unclear what kind of impact the rule could have on the state's iron ore mining industry. Representatives from mining companies and the state's trade association could not be reached for comment.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which oversees mine reclamation and administers financial assurance requirements for mines, has not yet seen the EPA's proposal.

"DNR will of course be looking closely at EPA's ideas for federal requirements and evaluating how they might relate to Minnesota's own rigorous environmental and taxpayer protections," said assistant DNR commissioner Barb Naramore.

The public has 60 days to comment on the rule.

For more information and to comment, please visit the EPA website;

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