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Updates to Idaho mining law advances despite some concerns

February 21, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation rewriting portions of Idaho’s mining law passed a House committee Thursday despite concerns from two conservation groups that it could leave taxpayers with cleanup bills if a company declares bankruptcy.

The House Resources and Conservation Committee voted 16-0 to send to the House the legislation that the conservation groups also said has good parts that update the nearly 50-year-old law.

Republican Rep. Jim Addis brought forward the bill on behalf of the Idaho Mining Association and said it will promote mining while protecting Idaho taxpayers.

“I think this bill does a great job of making sure that we address those future potential problems and adequately puts financial assurance to that,” Addis said after the meeting. “I think for mining going forward, they have to be a good citizen.”

Representatives with Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League said the Idaho Mining Association worked with them on the 21-page bill updating the 1971 surface mining act, but they had concerns about financial guarantees involving bankruptcies.

In particular, the groups said that financial assurance using financial devices called corporate guarantees and letters of credit wouldn’t protect Idaho taxpayers.

“In our legal analysis, these forms of bonding do not survive bankruptcy,” said Michael Gibson of Trout Unlimited. “We’ve seen where companies have gone bankrupt and left taxpayers holding the bill for the cleanup.”

Democratic Rep. Rob Mason said that if he had written the bill, he would have done it differently. “However, I am reluctant to let the better be the enemy of the perfect, and this is certainly better than we had from the 50-year-old statute,” he said.

Idaho taxpayers are paying for ongoing cleanup at the Triumph Mine in central Idaho about 7 miles (11 kilometers) southeast and downstream of Sun Valley. In January, the director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality asked lawmakers on a budget committee for an additional $1.5 million for cleanup at the site that is partially on state land and is now the state’s responsibility following the bankruptcy of Asarco Mining Co.