On January 16, 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made available its Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) for 2011. Through the TRI, EPA requires that more than 20,000 industrial facilities annually report toxic chemical releases into the air, water and land. The TRI found that while toxic air emissions were reduced by 8 percent from 2003 to 2011, the metal mining sector saw a 28 percent increase in 2010 to 2011 emissions. Specifically, the TRI singled out the metals mining sector as having the highest releases of toxics in 2011, discharging 1.9 billion pounds of waste. While the releases from the metals mining sector have increased in real terms, the sector's overall percentage of combined releases has increased considerably due to large reductions by other sectors. For example, the utility sector has decreased its overall emissions by 43 percent since 2003, due to changes in fuel usage and requirements of new Clean Air Act regulations. The 2011 Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis Overview can be viewed here.
Almost immediately after the TRI was released, an environmental watchdog group called for the EPA to move forward on additional financial assurance requirements for the hardrock mining industry under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, also known as CERCLA or Superfund. This call for new regulation of hardrock mining builds on the EPA's consideration of using CERCLA Section 108(b) to require that hardrock mine operators post bonds or produce letters of credit, also known as financial assurances, to ensure that industry pays for cleanup at abandoned hardrock mines. Such a requirement under 108(b) would be in addition to already-existing financial assurance requirements for hardrock mines on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, as well as similar requirements put in place by many states for hardrock mining on non-federal lands. Both industry and some members of Congress have raised concerns over the potential for new financial assurance requirements on hardrock mines. At this juncture, EPA is expected to release a formal proposal in mid-2014.