U.S. EPA opens Colorado office to focus on hardrock mining cleanups

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sign is seen on the podium at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it had created a Colorado-based office focused on hardrock mining cleanups in Western U.S. states, a move aimed at streamlining the remediation of thousands of mines abandoned over decades.

The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains is based in Lakewood, Colorado, and has oversight of federal hardrock mining cleanup sites west of the Mississippi River.

“The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will ensure we are making progress cleaning up mining sites across the West, promote Good Samaritan projects, identify innovative cleanup technologies, and oversee the cleanup of abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation,” EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento told an event announcing the new office.

The Navajo Nation’s own Environmental Protection Agency was not immediately available to comment on the new office.

EPA’s Superfund program remediates large abandoned mine land (AML) sites mostly on private land or involving mixed ownership, while the Interior and Agriculture Departments have oversight of abandoned mines on federal land.

Cleanups of those mines is complicated in part because there are no viable current or former owners of the mines, which makes it difficult to compete for federal cleanup funding with Superfund sites.

It was the latest move by President Donald Trump’s administration to move the work of federal agencies away from Washington. The administration moved Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, forcing the relocation of about 300 employees.

The office will employ up to nine full-time employees.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Cooney