Financial assurance rules for mines already vigorous

2011-08-02T08:00:00Z Financial assurance rules for mines already vigorousBy DEBBIE SHEA
August 02, 2011 8:00 am  • 

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the (July 25) opinion by Cindy Poett, Tracy "Ching" King and Bryce Andrews regarding Congressman Denny Rehberg's amendment to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from propagating duplicative financial assurance regulation. With all due respect, it seems the authors are a bit remiss in educating Montanans about their state's regulatory programs and financial assurance requirements regarding the mining industry.

There was 140 years of mining in the United States before any environmental laws and regulations were enacted. The three examples cited in the article refer to mines built prior to 1990 when regulatory programs and Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and state financial assurance requirements were just evolving.

Currently the state of Montana, BLM and Forest Service all have very strong regulatory programs with vigorous financial assurance requirements. Compliance with all applicable state and federal environmental laws and regulations are required. The BLM, Forest Service and Montana Department of Environmental Quality require posting of financial assurance to ensure permit compliance as well as to ensure that a mine is properly closed and reclaimed. In addition, the financial assurance is reviewed every year to make sure it is adequate to protect Montana taxpayers.

In a letter to the EPA, the Western Governors' Association stated, "New financial assurance requirements imposed upon the hardrock mining industry under CERCLA section 10(b) could duplicate or complicate existing State financial assurance regulation in the area." The letter further states, "state expertise in this field is critical to ensuring the protection of our lands against any potential risk associated with mining projects within our borders." Their final plea was to encourage the EPA to work in partnership with Western states.

Rehberg's amendment merely prevents EPA from promulgating a completely duplicative and unnecessary financial assurance program as well as protecting Montana jobs and Montana regulatory programs.

Finally, regarding the Mike Horse, it is a legacy site where mining began in 1898 and was expanded into a larger operation in 1919. In 1938, the Mike Horse Mining and Milling Co. leased the mine and built a 150 tons-per-day flotation mill. In 1941, the Mike Horse Dam was built across Beartrap Creek to contain the tailings generated from the flotation mill. In 1975, heavy rains caused a partial failure of the dam and high creek waters eroded contaminated tailings into Beartrap Creek and the upper Blackfoot River.

In 2005, a U.S. Forest Service dam safety report determined that the dam was unsafe and recommended that it be removed from service. The Forest Service released an action memorandum in 2007 calling for the removal and disposal of the dam, mill tailings and wastes. The dam sits in a floodplain at the headwaters of the Blackfoot River, and the tailings behind it will be moved to a repository on higher ground on ASARCO property. The project includes cleanup of tailings along the upper Blackfoot River, Beartrap Creek and Mike Horse Creek. Also, the state will restore those streams to eventually bring back westslope cutthroat and bull trout. The project will be fully funded by Atlantic Richfield Co. (now owned by British Petroleum) and ASARCO LLC. Mike Horse was in operation long before either federal regulations or state of Montana regulations were in effect.

Thank you for the opportunity to fill in some very important facts.

Debbie Shea is executive director of the Montana Mining Association.


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