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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, center, tours Coeur Mining Inc.'s Rochester mine during a visit Feb. 5 to discuss the recent EPA decision not to impose additional financial assurances for reclamation on certain hardrock mines.

By Suzanne Featherston

Elko Daily Free Press

LOVELOCK — An agency that encourages stewardship over prohibition is the Environmental Protection Agency that Administrator Scott Pruitt represented to the Nevada mining industry on Feb. 5.

The presidential cabinet member visited Coeur Mining Inc.’s Rochester mine near Lovelock to discuss the agency’s December decision not to issue final regulations for financial responsibility requirements for certain hardrock mining operations.

“What is environmental stewardship? What is environmental protection?” Pruitt asked. “I think as we work together over the next several years, we need to get back to stewardship, not prohibition.”

 The EPA decided not to issue the final rules under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act — CERCLA or Superfund — “because the risks associated with these facilities’ operations are addressed by existing federal and state programs and industry practices,” according to an EPA statement. The rules regarding mine reclamation would have affected 45 facilities across Nevada, he said, and many more across the country.

After a tour of the silver-and-gold open pit mine, Pruitt addressed some of Coeur Rochester’s 300 employees in the truck shop. Also in attendance were Nevada officials, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, Nevada Mining Association President Dana Bennett, Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada Director John Ruhs, and industry experts.

“The agency that I’ve been selected to lead, the last several years has been weaponized. It’s been weaponized against certain sectors of our economy, and yours was one of them,” Pruitt said. “Think about that for a second. An agency in Washington, D.C., weaponized against its own sectors of the economy across this country. That’s not the way it should work.”

Sandoval reminded listeners that Nevada already has policies in place to ensure good stewardship of the environment. He echoed the administrator’s statement that additional regulations would have placed undue burden on the mining industry and economy of rural Nevada.

“Nevada’s our house,” Sandoval said. “We’re proud of it, and we take good care of it.”

During a seven-month EPA public comment period in 2017 before the decision, Sandoval joined governors from across the country in declaring additional financial assurances for mine reclamation redundant, a point he revisited during the event.

“In our state, there are requirements that have been in place since 1991,” Sandoval said, explaining that Nevada requires $2.7 billion in bonding for 167,000 acres. “I’m really proud of our regulatory system. It serves as a national model.”

Pruitt said he aims to help restore cooperative partnerships between the states and the federal government to be good stewards of the environment. What he described as a “commonsense” approach acknowledges that states have financial assurances already in place and that the proposed policy was not cost-effective for taxpayers. He said the decision reflects the direction of President Donald Trump to “put America first.”

“We recognized that you in Nevada recognize that you care about the air that you breath, the water you drink and how you take care of your land in the state,” Pruitt said. “Having a rule that was punitive, weaponized against the mining sector, was not a reason to have the rule, so we stopped the rule.”

The administrator and governor stressed that the result of not requiring additional financial assurances should stimulate the economy, as mining companies invest in jobs and expand operations.

“This truly is something we should all celebrate because it does reverberate to all of you, because we don’t have to do this redundant bonding. That allows the mine to continue to invest in all of you,” Sandoval said. “It allows you to go beyond and expand the mine to have that mine life so that all of you can have this continuous employment.”

Pruitt also announced that EPA staff members are examining their processes for approving permits, which sometimes take 20 years to approve. He said they plan to streamline processes so that EPA-approved environmental permits can be decided in six months, starting in late 2018.

"The agency that I’ve been selected to lead the last several years has been weaponized. It’s been weaponized against certain sectors of our economy, and yours was one of them.” — EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

This story was originally published by Elko Daily Free Press. Read more from our editor about our content-sharing agreement with various rural partners.

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