Hardrock Mining and the Environment: Issues of Federal Enforcement and Liability

Seymour, John F.
November 2004
Ecology Law Quarterly;2004, Vol. 31 Issue 4, p795
Academic Journal
Hardrock mining has caused significant harm to the environment, particularly in the West. Mining laws enacted in the 19th Century sought to encourage mineral production and the transfer of mineral lands to private interests and were largely unconcerned with environmental protection. Federal regulation of hardrock mining, although increasingly effective in recent decades in mitigating the environmental effects of mining, remains heavily influenced by these laws and unable to fully prevent degradation of western watersheds. Federal land managers often have resorted to their authorities under CERCLA to recover response costs or compel cleanup at contaminated mining sites nation-wide. Mining companies have, in turn, sought contribution from the United States arguing that federal ownership of lands subject to hardrock mining, and federal regulation of hardrock mining sites, make it a responsible party and liable for clean-up. Courts have, in the main, rejected these arguments, looking to the history of hardrock mining and comparing the broad rights and interests granted to mining companies with the more circumscribed rights retained by the United States. CERCLA litigation, however, is expensive, retrospective, and fruitless at many "orphaned" sites where viable corporate entities no longer can be found. Statutory and regulatory reforms to the regulation of hardrock mining are necessary to more effectively protect public health and the environment.


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