Obtaining Public Liability for Mining Waste Cleanup

Without financial assurance regulations, mine operators have walked away from sites contaminated with cyanide, lead, arsenic, mercury and other toxins.


Regional Office / Program

Case Overview

According to Superfund legislation passed in 1980, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should have developed regulations that required mining companies and other high-risk polluting industries to provide financial proof that in case of toxic spills and other environmental contamination, these companies would be able to clean up the resultant contamination. The EPA had yet to issue these regulations, and some mining companies have declared bankruptcy instead of paying to clean up their sites, leaving the taxpayers with the bill. Without the financial incentive to prevent pollution, these companies have little incentive to improve their waste management.

In February 2009, a United States District Court ruled that the EPA must produce these long overdue regulations for mining companies by May 4, 2009, therefore limiting the public’s liability for the damage caused to the environment by poor practices by these companies.

Cabin Creek in West Virginia, polluted by mining waste runoff.
Cabin Creek in West Virginia, polluted by mining waste runoff. (Photo courtesy of Mark Schmerling)

Case Updates

May 20, 2014 Article

New Name, Same Game

The men behind the poisoning of West Virginia’s drinking water begin anew.

July 13, 2009 Press Release

EPA Takes First Step In Closing Mining Cleanup Loophole

Move comes as pollution from mining operations comes under increased scrutiny

February 26, 2009 Press Release: Victory

Court Rules Cleanup Tab For Mines and Other Hazardous Sites Should Not Fall to Public

In closing 25-year loophole, court protects public from hazardous waste sites and could save taxpayers billions