Support for Addressing Environmental Impacts of Mining and Mineral Processing Facilities

photo of a dump truck hauling gravel through a quarry

Project Brief

The Challenge

Mining and mineral processing facilities are regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Because of the potential for significant human health and environmental impacts from these facilities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance identified mining and mineral processing as one of its priority sectors for further review. OECA needed a robust methodology for targeting facilities associated with the greatest risks, investigating high-risk facilities to assess compliance, and conducting effective RCRA inspections at these facilities. Due to the prevalence of large-scale environmental damages, including severe impacts on water supplies and wildlife, OECA also needed support for settlement discussions.

ERG's Solution

To help EPA identify and target mining and mineral processing facilities that pose the greatest risks to human health and the environment, ERG collected facility and environmental data and designed a priority screening tool for evaluating potential releases and impacts from these facilities. We then applied this tool to help EPA identify sectors where further enforcement and compliance actions were needed. In addition, on an ongoing basis, we have been inspecting mining and mineral processing facilities for compliance with RCRA regulations. This work includes sample collection and subsequent management of laboratory sample analysis. Our inspectors identify facility waste streams, determine facility treatment and disposal methods, and verify that RCRA requirements are met. As needed, we support EPA in conducting further investigations and developing enforcement cases. To support EPA in settlement discussions, ERG developed the “Mining and Mineral Processing Injunctive Relief Guide,” which recommends actions that OECA could require mining and mineral operations under RCRA litigation to take to obtain injunctive relief. To develop this guide, we reviewed a variety of possible operational changes and waste management and treatment options for their effectiveness in reducing human health and environmental risk. Based on this analysis, the guide highlights actions in three key areas that were found to have the greatest potential for reducing risk: construction and operation requirements for new ponds, development of environmental management systems, and long-term remediation.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency