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Oppenheimer

The Idaho Department of Lands will hold a public meeting in Challis at the Community Event Center at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 13, to discuss changes in how mining companies pay for cleanup at Idaho mines. Based on a change in state law, Idaho is changing the way companies put up funds to cover mining cleanup costs in the event they are unable to pay once the mining operation ceases.

Mining is the No. 1 toxic polluter in the U.S., yet too often mining companies have made off with truckloads of gold, only to file for bankruptcy, leaving taxpayers saddled with millions in cleanup costs.

In many cases, mines belch pollution for decades long after the last load of ore is hauled away. Some mines will discharge toxic pollution in perpetuity, meaning that funds today need to be sufficient to protect the environment tomorrow, and for years, decades or centuries to come.

We teach our children the same lesson we learned in kindergarten: we are all responsible for the messes we make. If we expect our children to clean up their messes, should international mining companies be any different?

In Idaho, most mines are located on federally administered lands so federal rules govern how bonds and other funds are secured to provide for long-term cleanup. That’s a good thing because federal rules are more stringent and prohibit flimsy bonds and securities that would be worthless if a mining company were to declare bankruptcy. Under federal rules “corporate guarantees” that allow mining companies to use their company as collateral are prohibited.

On state lands, those same “corporate guarantees” can be accepted, which means if a mining company runs out of funds and is unable to cover the costs of cleanup, the state can use the assets to pay for cleanup. The major problem is the assets of a bankrupt mining company are generally worth less than a pile of rocks.

The result is that taxpayers end up paying the cleanup costs for years to come.

The good news is you can have a say in how these rules are being developed, and you can ask the state to implement measures to protect Idaho taxpayers and the environment.

When the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 141 this year, they changed the requirements for funding mine reclamation and remediation. Bonds, trusts and corporate guarantees can all be conditioned to improve the likelihood that they are solvent if a mining company is unable to follow through on their commitments. Right now, the IDL is developing those rules and you’ve got a chance to weigh in.

You can ask the Idaho Department of Lands to properly condition any corporate guarantees to protect taxpayers in the event of bankruptcy, require bonds or trusts to cover post-closure and water treatment costs, prohibit foreign corporations from using corporate guarantees, requiring Idahoans to chase foreign nationals in foreign courts should not be on the backs of Idaho taxpayers, and to require operators to meet AAA or higher ratings before authorizing any bonds or guarantees.

The Idaho Conservation League and its members from across the state are seeking stronger requirements for mining cleanup bonds to minimize risks to taxpayers and the environment.

For all Idahoans who care about maintaining and protecting our clean water and ensuring future taxpayers are not saddled with millions of dollars in private mining clean up costs, now’s the time to speak up and have your voice heard.

Jonathan Oppenheimer is the Idaho Conservation League’s government relations director

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