D.C. Circuit Upholds USEPA Decision to Not Require Financial Assurance Under CERCLA for Hardrock Mining

We have previously blogged (in June 2019 and 2017) on a proposed rule released during the final days of the Obama Administration which required hardrock mines to provide financial assurance demonstrating they are able to fund the costs associated with the future cleanup of the mines under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the federal statute designed to address releases of hazardous substances and the cleanup of hazardous waste sites nationwide. In December 2017, the USEPA stated its intention not to issue the final rule, finding that there was no need for any CERCLA financial assurance mechanism for operating hardrock mines based on existing federal and state programs as well as modern mining practices. Several environmental organizations filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the USEPA’s decision not to issue the rule.
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As discussed in prior blog posts, the Federal Circuits became split (Part 1) in 2018 on whether the Clean Water Act (“CWA” or the “Act”) regulates discharges of pollutants from point sources that reach navigable waters through nonpoint sources, such as groundwater. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in one of those Circuit decisions (Part 2), and the case is still in front of the Supreme Court. While U.S. EPA had requested comments on this and other issues (Part 3), the agency’s current position was unknown until recently. On April 15, 2019, EPA released an interpretive statement and corresponding press release providing new guidance on whether the CWA permitting requirements apply to discharges directly to groundwater (78 Fed. Reg. 16810 (April 23, 2019)).

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Husch Blackwell’s Daniel Fanning and Coty Hopinks-Baul provide interesting insights in the latest post from the CWA Series on whether or not a permit is required for discharges to groundwater under the Clean Water Act.
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A client alert issued today by Husch Blackwell’s environmental practice group details a major reversal of Obama-era policy by the Trump Administration.  The EPA announced it will not issue final regulations under CERCLA Section 108(b) imposing financial responsibility requirements on the hardrock mining industry. Abandoning a December 1, 2016 proposed rule, the EPA emphasized that

gravel pit with an industrial gravel sorter machinery with beautiful sunburst color effectThe United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) issued a proposed rule on December 1, 2016 requiring hardrock mines to provide financial assurance demonstrating they are able to fund the costs associated with the future cleanup of the mines under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the federal statute designed to address releases of hazardous substances and the cleanup of hazardous waste sites nationwide. The new regulations, if finalized by the stated deadline of December 1, 2017, would add an additional
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Environmental_Protection_Agency_logoOn January 11, 2017, EPA published notice of its intention to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking establishing financial responsibility requirements under Section 108(b) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for facilities in the chemical manufacturing (NAICS 325), petroleum and coal products manufacturing (NAICS 324), and electric power generation, transmission, and distribution (NAICS 2211) industries.  CERCLA Section 108(b) regulations require regulated classes of facilities to demonstrate to EPA that they have
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