EPA creates West US legacy mines office
Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains opens in Colorado North of 60 Mining News – September 4, 2020
Last updated 9/26/2020 at 3:24pm
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has created a new office specifically focused on issues unique to the American West, including clean-up of legacy hardrock mine sites.
Headquartered in Lakewood, Colo., this new Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains has been established to improve EPA's ability to respond to the range of special issues and unique needs associated with Western mining sites in EPA regions six through 10, which covers all states west of the Mississippi River, including Alaska and Hawaii.
This western focused office is expected to streamline EPA's previously diffused deployment of resources in the remediation of hardrock mining sites, which created challenges that impeded cleanup progress.
"The West is a special place, with special environmental challenges deserving of its own office within EPA," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said during the Sept. 2 introduction of the new office. "Under President Trump's leadership, this new office will provide effective solutions, and achieve important milestones in the cleanup of hardrock mining Superfund sites in the American West as well as foster great partnerships with states, tribes and local communities. Done are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach to remediation."
In addition to assuming oversight for federal hardrock mining cleanup sites west of the Mississippi River, the new EPA office will serve as a central contact for other federal agencies, states and tribes with responsibility for or impacted by these sites; and develop innovative technologies and adaptive management approaches to address legacy pollution. Additionally, the office will support efforts of conservation organizations to voluntarily undertake Good Samaritan projects to improve conditions at abandoned mines.
"The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will ensure we are making progress cleaning up mining sites across the West, promote Good Samaritan projects, identify innovative cleanup technologies, and oversee the cleanup of abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation," said EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento.
Born out of lessons learned at legacy mining sites across the West, EPA developed this new office to focus on the complex and unique issues related to hardrock mining cleanup and the communities in which they are located. The federal environmental agency said this new office will drive accountability, streamline cleanup efforts, and better facilitate coordination with regional and local stakeholders.
While modern hardrock mines in the U.S. have established a record of strong environmental stewardship, they are often judged by the stigma of legacy mine sites affecting communities across the American West.
Many mines that were operated and abandoned before society became environmentally conscientious are creating problems, including acid mine drainage, erosion, fugitive dust, habitat destruction, and surface and groundwater contamination. For many of these legacy mines there are no viable owners or operators, which can make it difficult for these sites to compete for funding from the annual Superfund appropriation.
"The importance of mining to our economy and national security cannot be underestimated, and today's American mining industry is a world leader in environmental stewardship," said Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin. "However, many western communities are still dealing with historic mining sites that affect the health of our lands and waters. This new office will leverage innovative technologies and strategies to address these legacy mining issues."
The establishment of the EPA Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains to address legacy mining issues was hailed by several western lawmakers as an innovative move that benefits conservationists, miners, westerner, and the nation as a whole.
"By centralizing the decision-makers on resource issues that matter to the communities in the West – including hardrock mining and legacy mining cleanup efforts – we can better ensure the federal government's resources, expertise, and innovative technology is being leveraged in the most efficient and scientific manner," said U.S. Congressman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash. "This is a win-win: for the environment, the taxpayers, and the American people."
"The West has complex and unique issues related to hardrock mines and the remediation of legacy mine lands. This new office will be critical in supporting conservation organizations' efforts to voluntarily undertake projects to improve conditions at abandoned mine lands in our area," said U.S. Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colo. "This is yet another way that our federal government, under the current administration, is making strides to cut red tape and be more responsive to our Western communities' needs."
The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains in Colorado will be staffed by five to nine employees, including a director who will report directly to EPA Assistant Administrator for Land and Emergency Management in Washington, DC.