Analysis of Legislation and Policies of the United States of America on Acid Mine Drainage

The United States is a vast country that comprises of 50 states, with diverse culture and laws from state-to-state. Coal, which is one of the major causes of AMD, has been mined in the United States since the 1740s (Jacobs and Testa,

2014). Thereafter, gold mining which is also a cause of AMD gained prominence in the 1960s (Testa and Pompy, 2007; Jacobs and Testa, 2014).

An extensive regulatory system has been developed to govern current mining operations in the United States, as well as to guide the clean-up of historical ones (Hudson et al., 1999). In fact, there are several dozens of federal environmental laws and regulations that cover all aspects of mining in the United States (NMA, 2015). The framework for these regulations is primarily based on federal laws dating back to the late 1960s (Hudson et al., 1999). In addition, each state has laws and regulations that mining companies must follow (Ndlovu et al., 2017). Ideally, regulatory standards established at state levels are commonly equal to or more stringent than federal standards (Hudson et al., 1999).

4.2.2.1 Federal Laws and Policies That Regulate Pollution Caused by Acid Mine Drainage

Some of the major federal laws and regulations governing the mineral industry including AMD in the United States are analysed in this section.

4.2.2.1.1 National Environmental Policy Act

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), passed in 1969, but enacted in 1970, established the basic environmental policies for the nation (Hudson et al., 1999). The NEPA defines processes for evaluating and communicating the environmental consequences of federal decisions and actions, such as the permitting of new mine development on federal lands. With respect to mining, the NEPA applies to mining operations requiring federal approval. The processes established by NEPA are used by concerned parties to ensure that environmental considerations are included in federal decisions. It requires federal agencies to prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) for major federal actions that may significantly affect the environment. These procedures exist to ensure that environmental information is available to public officials and citizens before actions are taken.

4.2.2.1.2 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act

This Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) or law commonly known as Superfund, because of its funding aspects, was enacted by Congress on 11 December 1980 (Jacobs and Testa, 2014). This law requires operations to report inventory of chemicals handled and releases of hazardous substances to the environment. Hazardous substances are broadly defined under CERCLA and have included mining, milling and smelter wastes that are currently excluded from regulation under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (Hudson et al., 1999; Ndlovu et al.,

2017). It requires clean up of sites where hazardous substances are found.

This law created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided broad federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment (Jacobs and Testa, 2014). The Superfund program was established to locate, investigate and clean up the worst abandoned hazardous waste sites nationwide and is currently being used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up mineral-related contamination at numerous locations (Hudson et al., 1999). Clean-up alternatives range from “no action", at little cost, to removal of the entire mineralised zone, costing millions of dollars (Jacobs and Testa, 2014).

4.2.2.1.3 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which is an amendment to the Solid Waste Disposal Act, was passed in 1976. The goals of the RCRA law are to conserve energy and natural resources, reduce the amount of waste generated and ensure that wastes are managed to protect human health and the environment. The RCRA gives EPA power to make and enforce regulations for managing many kinds of wastes.

In 1980, Congress specifically, albeit temporarily, excluded oil and gas wastes, mining wastes, waste from the combination of coal and other fossil fuels, and cement kiln dust waste from being regulated under Subtitle C, Hazardous Waste (Bevill Amendment) (Jacobs and Testa, 2014). As stated already, the changes imply that most mining, milling and smelting solid wastes in the category of “high-volume, low-hazard" materials have been exempted from regulation under RCRA (Hudson et al., 1999). The regulation of high-volume, low-hazard mining wastes is now the primary responsibility of the states. Therefore, the RCRA regulations only apply to three kinds of waste management: municipal, solid waste landfills; hazardous waste generators and transporters, and treatment, storage and disposal facilities; and underground tanks that store hazardous materials.

4.2.2.1.4 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) is the primary federal law that regulates the environmental effects of coal mining in the United States. SMCRA was basically created to provide a regulatory framework for regulating coal mining and providing a mechanism for remediation activities for lands and waters that had been affected adversely by past coal-mining activities (Jacobs and Testa, 2014). Two programs were created: one for regulating active coal mines and a second for reclaiming abandoned mine lands. SMCRA also created the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). The OSMRE collects fees on the basis of a tonnage of surface mined coal, coal-mined underground and lignite on all active mining operations. The SMCRA funds are intended for clean-up projects at coal mines that were abandoned prior to 3 August 1977. In some cases, SMCRA can be used to address abandoned hardrock mines provided that the state certifies that the responsible party(ies) have already addressed all of the coal mine problems under their jurisdiction.

4.2.2.1.5 Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act)

According to Hudson et al. (1999), the Federal Water Pollution Control Act commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act (CWA) came into effect in 1977. The CWA's goal is to make all surface waters safe and eventually to stop all harmful discharges. One of the principal tools established by CWA is a permitting system for surface water discharges, known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) (Hudson et al., 1999). The CWA requires mining operations to meet standards for surface water quality and for controlling discharges to surface water. The CWA-based regulations cover such mining-related situations as the disposal of mining-related waters, the pumping or draining of mine water to the surface, storm water runoff in mining operation areas, and control of seeps from mine tailings impoundments (Hudson et al., 1999).

4.2.2.1.6 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Program

The CWA established the NPDES permit program as stated earlier under CWA in the preceding heading. This program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Point sources are discrete conveyances such as pipes or human-made ditches. Individual homes that are connected to a municipal system, use a septic system, or do not have surface discharge are not affected by this program, but industrial, municipal and other facilities are affected by this program if their discharges go directly into surface waters. Under this program it is illegal to discharge pollutants from a point source to waters of the United States, except in compliance with an NPDES permit. The US EPA and states with EPA-approved programs are authorised to issue permits.

4.2.2.1.7 Title 30 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 876

This regulation is extracted from the chapter by Jacobs and Testa (2014) and states as follows: Regulations pertaining to AMD treatment and abatement are found under Title 30 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 876 (30 CFR Part 876), Section 876, Acid Mine Drainage Treatment and Abatement Program. This set of federal regulations provides scope, information collection, eligibility, treatment and abatement plan content, and plan approval.

The Acid Mine Drainage Treatment and Abatement Program provides for the comprehensive abatement of the causes and treatment of the effects of AMD within qualified hydrologic units affected by coal-mining practices. AMD plans must adhere to 30 Code of Federal Regulations Part 876.13 and include:

  • • Identification of the qualified hydrological unit
  • • Extent of the sources of AMD within the hydrological unit
  • • Identification of individual projects and the measures proposed to be undertaken to abate and treat the causes or effects of AMD within the hydrological unit
  • • Cost of undertaking the proposed sources of funding for such measures
  • • Analysis of the cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits of abatement and treatment measures

4.2.2.2 Summary

The importance of the environment, in general, and water, in particular, to the United States is seen in the vast number of regulations. These regulations were set up as guidelines on environmental and water issues and most importantly to provide mine operators, communities and regulators with essential information. In other words, they contain information and knowledge earmarked to assist all sectors of the mining industry, within and beyond about the requirements set by legislation. In addition, some of the regulations raise funds via a levy on active mines that is administered by the US Treasury to pay for the reclamation of abandoned mines, and some operations which pay taxes provide broad federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may pose eminent danger to the public as a whole.

 
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