New EPA office launched to address abandoned mine lands, accelerate cleanup across the west

The creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains was announced today, September 2nd.

This western lands-focused office, based in Colorado, will address cross-cutting issues unique to the region, and more effectively leverage existing EPA staff, expertise and resources in hardrock mining cleanup, according to a press release.

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“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 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.

Born out of lessons learned at sites across the country such as the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colo. and Silver Bow Creek Superfund site in Butte, Mont., EPA developed this new office to focus on the complex and unique issues related to hardrock mining cleanup and the communities in which they are located.

The office will improve EPA’s ability to respond to the range of special issues and unique needs associated with Western mining sites 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.

The Director of the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will report directly to Peter Wright, the Assistant Administrator for Land and Emergency Management. The office will employ five to nine full-time employees at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colo.

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.

For more information on the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains, click here.

Recently, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality shared during 2019, Abandoned Mine Lands projects in Wyoming helped stimulate local economies by more than $155 million. Click here to read more.

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