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Trump EPA Launches Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains to Effectively Address Abandoned Mine Lands, Accelerate Cleanup Across the West

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Colorado Springs, Colo. (September 2, 2020) — Today, at a press conference at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the creation of the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains located in EPA’s office in Lakewood, Colo. This western lands-focused office will address cross-cutting issues unique to the region, and more effectively leverage existing EPA staff, expertise and resources in hardrock mining cleanup.

“The West is a special place, with special environmental challenges deserving of its own office within EPA,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Under President Trump’s leadership, this new office will provide effective solutions, and achieve important milestones in the cleanup of hardrock mining Superfund sites in the American West as well as foster great partnerships with states, tribes and local communities. Done are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach to remediation.”

“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,” said EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento. “This uniquely western work needs an integrated western presence, and Administrator Wheeler should be commended for recognizing this and creating this new geographic program in Colorado. Addressing these issues requires an office with a singular focus and senior leadership who don’t see these issues in the abstract, but are actually located in the West and accessible to the communities impacted by them.”

The importance of mining to our economy and national security cannot be underestimated, and today’s American mining industry is a world leader in environmental stewardship,” said Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin. “However, many Western communities are still dealing with historic mining sites that affect the health of our lands and waters. This new office will leverage innovative technologies and strategies to address these legacy mining issues.”

Associate Deputy Administrator Benevento and Region 8 Administrator Sopkin were joined by U.S. Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-05), U.S. Congressman Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Oklahoma Secretary of Energy & Environment Ken Wagner, Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Misael Cabrera, and Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Jess Byrne at the press conference to announce the new office. 

"I applaud President Trump and EPA Administrator Wheeler for continuing to bring federal resources out of Washington, DC and into the communities they serve. This is an exciting announcement that clearly demonstrates the EPA's commitment to Colorado and the West. The EPA's new Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains will help bolster accountability, streamline cleanup efforts of abandoned mine lands, and facilitate better coordination with local, state, and tribal partners. The West has complex and unique issues related to hardrock mines and the remediation of legacy mine lands. This new office will be critical in supporting conservation organizations' efforts to voluntarily undertake projects to improve conditions at abandoned mine lands in our area. This is yet another way that our federal government, under the current administration, is making strides to cut red tape and be more responsive to our Western communities' needs," said Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-05).

“Today’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency is yet another step the Trump Administration has taken toward increasing transparency and accountability in federal decision-making,” said U.S. Congressman Dan Newhouse (WA-04). “By centralizing the decision-makers on resource issues that matter to the communities in the West – including hardrock mining and legacy mining cleanup efforts – we can better ensure the federal government’s resources, expertise, and innovative technology is being leveraged in the most efficient and scientific manner. This is a win-win: for the environment, the taxpayers, and the American people.”

“Thank you to Administrator Wheeler and Associate Deputy Administrator Benevento. The recognition that putting subject matter experts in the area that is affected by regulations and regulatory actions to work with state local and tribal governments achieves the best outcomes for public health and the environment. We are looking forward to continuing our partnership to restore valuable habitat and protect our natural resources,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken Wagner.

"I commend EPA for establishing a western lands-focused office that will address the complex problems associated with hardrock mine cleanups. I am encouraged by EPA's intent to concentrate on innovative yet practical solutions that respect local concerns," said Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director, Misael Cabrera, P.E.

The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will assume oversight responsibilities for federal hardrock mining cleanup sites west of the Mississippi River; serve as a central contact for other federal agencies, states and tribes with responsibility for or impacted by these sites; and develop innovative technologies and adaptive management approaches to address legacy pollution. Additionally, the office will support efforts of conservation organizations to voluntarily undertake projects to improve conditions at abandoned mines (Good Samaritan projects).

Born out of lessons learned at sites across the country such as the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colo. and Silver Bow Creek Superfund site in Butte, Mont., EPA developed this new office to focus on the complex and unique issues related to hardrock mining cleanup and the communities in which they are located. The office will improve EPA’s ability to respond to the range of special issues and unique needs associated with Western mining sites in EPA Regions 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. The new office will drive accountability, streamline cleanup efforts, and better facilitate coordination with states, local and tribal partners. It will allow for the primary point of integration, communication and coordination with federal land management agencies, who oversee the federal lands where many of the current abandoned mines exist.

The Director of the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will report directly to Peter Wright, the Assistant Administrator for Land and Emergency Management. The office will employ five to nine full-time employees at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colo.

By realigning existing resources and teaming up staff with expertise in these distinct ecosystems, the new Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will accelerate positive outcomes for Western communities and the environment.

For more information on the Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains:


Currently, the diffused deployment of EPA’s resources in the remediation of hardrock mining sites creates challenges impeding cleanup progress due to the distinct environmental impacts of historical mining operations and unique ecosystems of the American West, where most of these sites are located. Historical methods for mineral extraction and beneficiation can create environmental problems, including acid mine drainage, erosion and sedimentation, chemical releases, fugitive dust, habitat destruction, surface and groundwater contamination, and subsidence. Additionally, there are many mining sites for which there are no viable current or former owners or operators, which can make it difficult for these sites to compete with Superfund sites across the country for funding from the annual Superfund appropriation.