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An Overview of Mine Waste Regulation in the United States

John D. Fognani, Michael T. Hegarty, Mining Law & Investment in Latin America (2003)

The disposition of mine wastes in the United States is governed by a complex matrix of interconnected federal and state laws and regulations. At the heart of this matrix are two voluminous federal statutes: The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 6901 et seq.), as amended (“RCRA”); and The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 9601 et seq.), as amended (“CERCLA”).

As the following outline describes, RCRA is primarily a forward-looking statute. While provision is made in RCRA to respond to past instances of solid waste contamination, RCRA is principally designed to regulate current and ongoing handling and disposal of solid wastes, including mine wastes. CERCLA, on the other hand, focuses on responding to past instances of hazardous substance contamination, including contamination from mine wastes. As outlined below, CERCLA provides for the cleanup of hazardous substance contamination and, wherever possible, the distribution of cleanup costs among responsible parties. Taken together, RCRA and CERCLA impose a comprehensive set of controls on the disposition of mine wastes in the U.S.