The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with the owner of the Bunker Hill Mine, Placer Mining Company, Inc. (Placer Mining), resolving Placer Mining’s cleanup liability in Idaho’s northern panhandle. The Department of Justice and EPA have concurrently reached a settlement with the lessee of the Bunker Hill Mine, Bunker Hill Mining Corp. (BHMC), removing a barrier to new operations at the Mine.
- Protects area waterways and ecosystems, through the continued treatment of 1,300 gallons of acid mine drainage discharged per minute;
- Reduces the financial burden on federal taxpayers by shifting the responsibility for future wastewater treatment to the new operator;
- Paves the way for a new mining enterprise, with the prospect of more jobs in Idaho’s Silver Valley;
- Offers more regulatory certainty for current and future mine owners/operators; and
- Resolves close to three decades of litigation surrounding the cleanup of contaminated mine waste in Idaho’s Silver Valley.
“Today’s settlement ends years of litigation, recoups for taxpayers millions of dollars in cleanup costs, and ensures a better environment for the people of Idaho, while also spurring economic growth and job creation in the northern panhandle region,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are pleased to work with our partners at EPA to bring this longstanding matter to a good resolution.”
"Through this settlement, EPA is clearing the way for a new operator to resume mining, bringing jobs back to the community, while also securing the ongoing cleanup of contaminated water and recovery of EPA's past cleanup costs," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "EPA is delivering on its Superfund Task Force commitments."
As part of the settlement, BHMC will pay EPA up to $20 million, on behalf of Placer Mining, in satisfaction of EPA’s past costs claim against Placer Mining. Placer Mining also agrees drop its “takings” case against the United States. This settlement of claims between EPA and Placer Mining also enables BHMC to return the Bunker Hill Mine to production after a hiatus of more than two decades. For nearly a century, the Bunker Hill Mine was one of the most productive mines in the Coeur d’Alene Mining District. As part of the agreement, BHMC has agreed to pay for future treatment of acid mine drainage coming from the mine. BHMC has also agreed to undertake various maintenance and monitoring tasks to help ensure previous cleanup work at the Superfund Site remains protective and is not adversely impacted by new mining operations.
By innovatively approaching this complex situation involving multiple parties and interests, EPA and the Department of Justice addressed a host of complex legal and technical issues that arise when a third party locates a business within a Superfund site where response actions and litigation are pending. These issues were resolved through a combination of a consent decree for cost recovery and a prospective purchaser agreement to govern the performance of ongoing response actions.
The Bunker Hill Mine sits amidst the Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Complex Superfund Site (https://go.usa.gov/xnm9K0), running next to Interstate 90 from near the Montana state line, then along the Coeur d’Alene River, and reaching into the state of Washington. The historic Jesuit Cataldo Mission is also within the Site, which has been home to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for millennia.
EPA first listed the Site on its National Priorities List (NPL) in 1983. Soon after being added to the NPL, cleanup of mine waste contamination in surface water, groundwater, soil, and sediment began across the Site. EPA and the state of Idaho jointly lead the project. Currently, EPA and the state of Idaho are coordinating approximately $25-$30 million in cleanup projects annually.
The site-wide cleanup was spurred by the toxic side effects of widespread lead (and other metals) contamination which began showing up in the 1970s in routine blood lead screenings for children who lived in the area. Some of the highest blood lead readings ever documented in North America were measured in local children in the 1970s and 1980s. Following years of a comprehensive approach that includes a large-scale cleanup, outreach, education, and health interventions, local blood lead levels are now within the national average.
Funding from this settlement will help reimburse EPA for past costs incurred related to the Central Treatment Plant (CTP) in Kellogg, Idaho. The CTP has been treating acid mine drainage from the Bunker Hill Mine since 1995. The settlement agreement is structured to recover up to 82% of the past costs for water treatment and result in payment for all future water treatment costs.
The consent decree, lodged in the District Court of Idaho, is subject to a 30-day federal public comment period and final court approval.