How does the Clean Water Act relate to mining?

1 Answer
Jul 20, 2017

Answer:

The US's Clean Water Act regulates how pollutants are released into US waters and water quality standards. Mining activities must adhere to these regulations.

Explanation:

The US's Clean Water Act regulates how pollutants are released into US waters and water quality standards.

Mining companies must adhere to its regulations. Specifically, Sections 402 and 404 concern mining with the former regulating the dumping of pollutants and the latter regulating how dredged material or "fill" is discharged. Section 402 is under control of the EPA and Section 404 is under control of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The mining industry produces a great deal of waste, and hard rock mining is known for exploiting loopholes in the Clean Water Act to pollute US waters, with the EPA estimating that 40% of US watersheds in the western portion of the country being contaminated (see here). This is done using "the fill rule," which (to the dismay of environmental scientists) classifies mining waste as fill, allowing it to fall under the much less strict Section 404.

Through this loophole, companies are allowed to dump mining waste, filled with dangerous chemicals, onto public land if they are awarded a permit by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps of Engineers does not include any sort of environmental protection or awareness in its mission and the permit process is far less strict than Section 402 of the Clean Water Act.