About Hardrock Mines
These are primarily ores and metals (e.g. gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, nickel). Most are small to medium in size, though there are a handful of large, significant sites. These sites are predominately in the West, which gave rise to the establishment of cities and towns during homesteading (Westward population expansion). The majority sits on or adjacent to Federal lands and often involve “mixed-ownership.” Many of these sites have been “patented” to mining claimants and are now on private lands.
No single national AML program exists; rather, several authorities and multiple departments and agencies address hardrock AML sites as part of broader programs. Similarly, funding for remediation projects is spread among separate appropriations for participating departments and agencies. Federal and State agencies are doing more than ever before to display their spatial data and exchange information. Data from the former U.S. Bureau of Mines and the U.S. Geological Survey provide the foundation of most hardrock mine inventories.
There is a “polluter pays” principle that requires the Federal government, where possible, to compel responsible parties to clean up their sites or help cover the costs. Priorities focus on water quality and sites involving release or potential release of hazardous substances.
FEDERAL AGENCY LEADS
- U.S. Department of the Interior
- Bureau of Land Management
- National Park Service
- Office of Surface Mining
- U.S. Geological Survey Department's Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance
U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Forest Service
- Natural Resources Conservation Service and Departmental Hazard Materials Management Division
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency U.S. Army Corps of Engineers U.S. Department of Justice
Most hardrock AML sites are included and addressed as part of broader agency programs. For example, the EPA’s Superfund program remediates large AML sites mostly on private land or involving mixed ownership. Department of Agriculture agencies fund projects through hazmat and safety programs. At the Interior Department, AMLs on DOI-managed lands are addressed through a mix of hazmat, watershed, and historic preservation programs. States and Tribes who have completed their coal AML cleanups may be able to use grants issued by OSM to address non-coal sites. In addition, the USGS serves as unbiased scientific experts to advise and assist other agencies in prioritizing and completing their AML projects.
Federal agencies have informally estimated that they expend $80–85 million annually on hardrock AML remediation (excluding OSM’s Surface Mining Control and Reclamation (SMCRA) grants to certified States).
Each abandoned mine site faces a somewhat unique set of regulatory requirements, depending on federal and state statutes or regulations; whether it is on federal, state, tribal, or private land; local regulations; and site-specific environmental considerations.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, provides the primary tools available to EPA project managers in developing strategies for assessment, investigation, and cleanup of environmental risks from abandoned mine sites. However, the use of CERCLA authorities is not limited to EPA. Other federal agencies, under the authority of Executive Order 12580, have used CERCLA to implement cleanup activities on their lands.
The National Priorities List (NPL) was established by CERCLA to provide a guide in determining which sites warrant further investigation, to assess the nature and extent of the public health and environmental risks associated with the site.