Las Vegas Sun

May 20, 2019

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Mines seek timeout on a pollution control

Industry urges state to wait for U.S. decision on mercury

The Nevada Mining Association is asking the state to postpone ordering the mining industry to install additional mercury emissions control equipment until the federal government reveals its plans for gold mining pollution this summer.

The state plans to begin requiring mining companies to equip their operations with the latest technology to prevent toxic mercury from escaping into the air. Permits are scheduled to be issued in July and most gold mines will have two years to comply.

The industry, however, argues that it should not spend the tens of millions of dollars required now because the federal Environmental Protection Agency may impose its own pollution control requirements on gold mines.

The EPA decision is expected in August. The mining association filed a petition Monday to the State Environmental Commission for review of the state program.

Justin Hayes, policy director at the Idaho Conservation League, which says airborne mercury from Nevada’s mine is contaminating fish, called the move “the standard industry position of not wanting to address their pollution problems.”

“This is mining putting their profits ahead of the health of children who eat fish in Southern Idaho, Northern Nevada and Utah,” Hayes said. “They’re prioritizing corporate profits over the health of people. That’s what it is.”

Nevada gold mines have long been among the region’s largest emitters of airborne mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage, especially in fetuses and children.

Mining interests hold powerful political sway in Nevada as the No. 2 industry, and both the Nevada Mining Association and the state have been trying to stop the EPA from creating a national mercury emission standard for gold mines.

The state believes federal standards would disrupt its mercury control program, which has been operated for several years by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

“It does present uncertainty — not only for the state but also for the mining industry, as far as what will be expected,” said Jill Lufrano, spokeswoman for the division.

The mining industry also opposes federal regulation. “It would not be prudent for Nevada’s mining industry to make the significant investment of time and money required by the next phase of the current program, until there is further understanding of the EPA’s program and implementation,” the Nevada Mining Association said in a statement.

The state has been requiring the mines to reduce airborne mercury for the past few years. Several mines have installed the new equipment.

The request to delay state requirements comes at a critical juncture, as the state insists its program is better tailored to Nevada than a federal program would be.

“If I were NDEP, I would pay very close attention to the old Western adage,” Hayes said. “They have a program. If they hope to convince anybody the Nevada program should be a model for the national program, don’t switch horses in the middle of the stream.”

The commission is scheduled to meet June 17.

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