Today, at a press conference at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the creation of the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains located in EPA's office in Lakewood, CO. This western lands-focused office will address cross-cutting issues unique to the region, and more effectively leverage existing EPA staff, expertise and resources in hardrock mining cleanup. Rep. Newhouse (R-WA) joined EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento and EPA Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin at the launch event to applaud EPA's action to support Western priorities.
"Today's announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency is yet another step the Trump Administration has taken toward increasing transparency and accountability in federal decision-making," said Rep. Newhouse. "By centralizing the decision-makers on resource issues that matter to the communities in the West -- including hardrock mining and legacy mining cleanup efforts -- we can better ensure the federal government's resources, expertise, and innovative technology is being leveraged in the most efficient and scientific manner. This is a win-win: for the environment, the taxpayers, and the American people."
"The West is a special place, with special environmental challenges deserving of its own office within EPA," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. "Under President Trump's leadership, this new office will provide effective solutions, and achieve important milestones in the cleanup of hardrock mining Superfund sites in the American West as well as foster great partnerships with states, tribes and local communities. Done are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach to remediation."
"The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will ensure we are making progress cleaning up mining sites across the West, promote Good Samaritan projects, identify innovative cleanup technologies, and oversee the cleanup of abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation," said EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento. "This uniquely western work needs an integrated western presence, and Administrator Wheeler should be commended for recognizing this and creating this new geographic program in Colorado. Addressing these issues requires an office with a singular focus and senior leadership who don't see these issues in the abstract, but are actually located in the West and accessible to the communities impacted by them."
"The importance of mining to our economy and national security cannot be underestimated, and today's American mining industry is a world leader in environmental stewardship," said Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin. "However, many Western communities are still dealing with historic mining sites that affect the health of our lands and waters. This new office will leverage innovative technologies and strategies to address these legacy mining issues."
The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will assume oversight responsibilities for federal hardrock mining cleanup sites west of the Mississippi River; serve as a central contact for other federal agencies, states and tribes with responsibility for or impacted by these sites; and develop innovative technologies and adaptive management approaches to address legacy pollution. Additionally, the office will support efforts of conservation organizations to voluntarily undertake projects to improve conditions at abandoned mines (Good Samaritan projects).
By realigning existing resources and teaming up staff with expertise in these distinct ecosystems, the new Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will accelerate positive outcomes for Western communities and the environment, improving EPA's ability to respond to the range of special issues and unique needs associated with Western mining states in EPA Regions 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. The new office will drive accountability, streamline cleanup efforts, and better facilitate coordination with states, local and tribal partners. It will allow for the primary point of integration, communication and coordination with federal land management agencies, who oversee the federal lands where many of the current abandoned mines exist.
Rep. Newhouse serves as Vice Chairman for the Departments of Interior and Energy for the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of both House and Senate Members from rural districts across the country. The Western Caucus works in Congress and alongside the Administration to advocate for effective land management policies, preservation of the uniquely American way of life in rural communities, and empowerment of local voices to have more say in land, water, and natural resource development decision-making.
Currently, the diffused deployment of EPA's resources in the remediation of hardrock mining sites creates challenges impeding cleanup progress due to the distinct environmental impacts of historical mining operations and unique ecosystems of the American West, where most of these sites are located. Historical methods for mineral extraction and beneficiation can create environmental problems, including acid mine drainage, erosion and sedimentation, chemical releases, fugitive dust, habitat destruction, surface and groundwater contamination, and subsidence. Additionally, there are many mining sites for which there are no viable current or former owners or operators, which can make it difficult for these sites to compete with Superfund sites across the country for funding from the annual Superfund appropriation.