On January 29, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to finalize the long-awaited “financial assurance” regulations under section 108(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”). The hard rock mining industry is first in line to be subject to the new requirements.
The D.C. Circuit’s order is the result of a case brought by several environmental groups against the EPA seeking to force the EPA to put into effect the so-called “financial assurance regulations.”
In enacting CERCLA in 1980, Congress directed the EPA to ensure that companies remain financially capable of cleaning up contaminated sites. These financial assurance rules were intended to prevent companies from creating toxic sites and then becoming financially unable to clean them up, often causing the cleanup to be delayed for years.
In the intervening thirty years since CERCLA took effect, the EPA made little progress toward promulgating any financial assurance regulations, that is, until a court ruling in 2009 (brought by many of the same groups) ordered them to start. Pursuant to the 2009 ruling, the EPA published a notice in the Federal Register designating the hard rock mining industry as its priority for the development of financial responsibility requirements. In making this determination, the EPA cited a heightened “risk” associated with hard rock mining which increases the likelihood of releases of hazardous substances. Continue Reading