Here's a neat trick:
Make loads of money strip mining federal lands, pollute local waterways and, right before the bill comes due for the cleanup, declare bankruptcy and leave the expense to taxpayers.
It happens. And it's legal. For now.
A coalition of environmental groups represented by EarthJustice filed a lawsuit last week to close the "loophole" in the nation's Superfund law that allows mines and other polluting industries to play a "get out of pollution liability free" card. The lawsuit seeks to require polluting industries to post a bond that would be used to pay for cleanup should the company go out of business. Congress is considering similar legislation.
"If we are successful, it will not only save taxpayers billions, it will encourage companies to avoid costly cleanups altogether by adopting more responsible practices," said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans. "The absence of regulations makes it easy for irresponsible companies in certain polluting industries to walk away from contaminated sites. This lawsuit will fix that problem."
The lawsuit specifically targets the hardrock mining industry, which "uses and unearths large quantities of harmful toxins such as cyanide, lead, arsenic, and mercury in the mining process and has polluted more than 40% of western watershed headwaters," according to EarthJustice. But a successful lawsuit may apply to other industries as well.
According to EarthJustice:
Although many industries that handle hazardous materials are subject to bonding requirements under federal hazardous waste laws, numerous industries such as hardrock mining, electric utilities, metal finishers, solvent and battery recyclers and wood treatment facilities are not. These industries fall through the gap between two of the country's most important hazardous waste cleanup laws: the Superfund law and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). When the Superfund law was passed in 1980, lawmakers gave EPA five years to address this discrepancy. More than 20 years later, EPA still has not acted. Today's legal action asks that they perform this long overdue task.
The of cleaning up old mines was estimated four years ago at $22.6 billion, 61% of which has been left to the taxpayers.
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