Idaho Conservation League Joins Lawsuit Against EPA

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Northern Idaho's Bunker Hill became a Superfund site in 1983. A new lawsuit aimed at the EPA charges that if proper rules were in place, the cleanup would have been taken care of much more quickly, and maybe even would have never happened. - U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Northern Idaho's Bunker Hill became a Superfund site in 1983. A new lawsuit aimed at the EPA charges that if proper rules were in place, the cleanup would have been taken care of much more quickly, and maybe even would have never happened.

Idaho Conservation League
, Earthworks, Sierra Club, Amigos Bravos, Great Basin Resource Watch, and Communities for a Better Environment filed suit through Earthjustice against the Environmental Protection Agency on Aug. 11 for failing to issue rules mandated by the Superfund Act—rules that would help prevent major spills and stick polluters with the bill to clean them up.

Take cleanup efforts at the Bunker Hill Superfund site, also knowns as the Coeur d'Alene Basin cleanup, was first added to EPA's National Priority List of contaminated sites  in 1983. A news release from the conservation groups said the cleanup has been going on for decades, repeatedly delayed because of lack of funding. The ASARCO mining company declared bankruptcy, leaving taxpayers to foot most of the cleanup bill—nearly $2 billion.

The delayed cleanup keeps communities exposed to high levels of lead and other pollutants longer. The news release said the Centers for Disease Control measured lead blood levels in children higher than the acceptable maximum. 

"Pollution from abandoned mines can affect the water quality of the groundwater, springs, streams and rivers we all depend on," said John Robison, Public Lands director of ICL, in the release. "Many of these long-term problems and exorbitant cleanup costs could have been avoided had the companies been required to post a bond to pay for the full cleanup of mine waste and potential spills."

The Superfund law does require the EPA to develop rules ensuring industries that handle hazardous substances secure insurance or other financial means to clean up any messes that release toxic chemicals. Rules such as these would require hazardous spills to be cleaned up as quickly and thoroughly as possible without drawing on public funds. The rules would in theory help prevent spills because unsafe practices would lead to higher insurance costs; however, the lawsuit is charging that the EPA has failed to impose such rules for more than 30 years.

The EPA estimates that one in four Americans lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site. Since the Superfund tax expired 15 years ago, funds for cleaning up toxic sites have been greatly reduced.