Appeals court upholds Trump move to drop mine pollution rule

Monday, July 22, 2019

BILLINGS (AP) — A U.S. appeals court panel sided with the Trump administration Friday in a mining pollution dispute, ruling that state and federal programs already in place ensure that companies take financial responsibility for future cleanups.

The ruling came after the administration was sued by environmental groups for dropping an Obama-era proposal that would have forced companies to put up money to show they have resources to clean up pollution.

The mining industry has a legacy of bankrupt companies abandoning polluted sites and leaving taxpayers to cover cleanup costs.

But the three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it was “unpersuaded” by the environmentalists’ arguments that the Trump administration relied on a faulty economic analysis in making its decision.

“Existing federal and state programs impose significant financial responsibility requirements on the hardrock mining industry,” Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote. “States have changed their financial responsibility requirements to account for the risk of bankruptcy” by companies.

The case began after Environmental Protection Agency said in December 2017 that stricter regulations and modern mining practices have reduced the risks of pollution going unaddressed.

Under former President Barack Obama, the agency determined the opposite, saying mining pollution remains an ongoing concern.

The mining industry and members of Congress from Western states had argued the rule was unnecessary because of existing cleanup requirements already enforced at the state and federal level.

The Associated Press has reported that every day, millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding streams and ponds without being treated.

State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past. Environmental groups contend huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today’s mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups.

National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said the court decision Friday recognizes that companies already provide sufficient bonds and other financial assurances to cover cleanup costs.

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