The Environmental Protection Agency issued major new regulations for the mining industry on Friday, sparking the ire of Republican congressional leaders.
The agency issued the rules under a court settlement with environmental groups, which Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called "more of the same special interest handouts from this administration."
The proposed regulations would force owners of hardrock mines to demonstrate their ability to pay for the cleanup of toxic substances that result from metal and mineral mining under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Mining companies would not be permitted to abandon their facilities and leave the cost of cleaning up the mines to taxpayers, the EPA said.
"Far too often the American people bear the costs of expensive environmental cleanups stemming from hardrock mining and mineral processing," said Mathy Stanislaus, the head of EPA's land management office. "This proposed rule, once finalized, would move the financial burden from taxpayers, and ensure that industry assumes responsibility for these cleanups. The proposed rule would also give companies an economic incentive to use environmentally protective practices that can help prevent future releases."
Bishop argues that the rules are not needed because laws already exist to deal with the issue. He said the EPA chose to ignore the existing law in favor of duplicative regulations.
"It's a burdensome, duplicative and completely unnecessary pile to the tune of billions of dollars on the backs of the mining industry," Bishop said. "State financial assurance programs and numerous other federal regulations are already in place to ensure environmental stewardship, but the EPA ignored input from those models and stakeholders," he said.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, blasted the EPA proposal as an unnecessary burden that "will not result in safer mines or better mine cleanup." Instead, it would result in "fewer mines, lower mineral security and a weaker manufacturing sector in our country," she added.
Murkowski pledged Friday to "stop this rule in its tracks," beginning by calling on the EPA to extend the comment period an additional 120 days to fix the regulations. The current comment period before the rules are finalized is 60 days.
But the EPA isn't stopping there. Buried in its announcement about the new mining regulations, the EPA also said McCarthy signed off on a separate plan to begin looking at similar regulations on cleanup costs for a number of other industries.
McCarthy signed a determination notice on studying whether it should move forward on issuing notices of proposed rulemaking for chemical manufacturing, the electric power generation sector, and petroleum and coal products manufacturing.
"This notice is not a determination that regulatory financial assurance requirements are necessary for any of these three industries," the agency said. "The notice explains that EPA intends to move forward with the regulatory process, which will determine what, if any, financial responsibility requirements are necessary for these industries."