EPA Announces the Creation of the Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains

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Washington, September 2, 2020 | Doug Levine (202-225-2315) | comments

Today, members of the Western Caucus released the following statements after EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the creation of the Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains to be located in Lakewood, Colorado.  

“Today is an important day for the future of the West as EPA is finally recognizing the important regional and geographical challenges we face. For too long, the EPA has ignored the priorities of Western States, the creation of the Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains within the EPA means that there will now be dedicated staff living and working in the west  focused on the priorities that matter to the people of Arizona.  From Abandoned mine recovery, to future mine permitting, and other critical issues this EPA office will move forward projects that will create thousands of jobs for the American people. Now more than ever we need a strong domestic mining industry that can meet our own needs without being reliant on foreign adversaries and today’s announcement helps to make that possible. I want to thank Administrator Wheeler for being an outstanding friend to the West and his exemplary leadership of the EPA,” said Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04),” said Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04). 

“Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction because it will put decision makers closer to the people who fall under their jurisdiction. We know that the out-of-touch rules made by federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. can cause untold challenges for individuals and businesses in Wyoming. I applaud the Trump Administration’s efforts to give local stakeholders more control over their communities - instead of empowering the federal government - and today’s announcement builds on that trend,” said Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (WY-AL). 

“Without a proactive mitigation plan in place, too many abandoned mines in Colorado continue to threaten the safety and quality of water for states in the West. I applaud this effort by the EPA to prioritize the reclamation of these mines and look forward to this newly created office providing a faster means to protect our communities,” said Executive Vice Chairman Scott Tipton (CO-03). 

"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. 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," said Vice Chairman for Departments of Energy and Interior Dan Newhouse (WA-04). 

"The leadership of Administrator Andrew Wheeler continues to bring the EPA into the 21st century. Today’s announcement of the Colorado Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains establishes a lands-focused center outside of stifling Washington that’s capable of addressing the myriad of issues unique to the West. This realignment of resources will ensure a more responsive agency, one now accountable for coordinating and streamlining important efforts between western tribes, states, and locals. This is nothing short of a win for the West and I will continue to work with the agency to guarantee a smooth, effective transition," said Chair Emeritus Rob Bishop (UT-01). 

“I appreciate the Trump Administration’s tireless efforts in protecting the well-being of our western states and tribal communities. Mining is a pillar of Arizona’s economy, and I hope that this effort creates a more transparent and accountable experience for Arizonans engaging with the federal government,” said Vice Chairman for Regulatory Reform Andy Biggs (AZ-05). 

“Hardrock mining is a key part of domestic mineral production, but it comes with a unique set of challenges. This new office will focus directly on these issues, allowing the EPA to further improve the world’s best mining standards. Its location in the West is also notable, as we should be putting more federal agencies right in the communities they serve. I applaud the EPA for their initiative and hope this office better enables us to steward our natural resources well," said Vice Chairman for Infrastructure and Forestry Bruce Westerman (AR-04). 

"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 Vice Chairman for Defense and Veterans Doug Lamborn (CO-05). 

“It’s important that hardrock mines with potential toxic leaks threatening waterways be contained and controlled.  The EPA’s new Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains will accelerate the clean-up of these sites, improving environmental outcomes for both people and public lands. I am grateful to the Trump Administration and Administrator Wheeler for prioritizing this uniquely Western issue,” said Vice Chairman for Agriculture and Chief Business Officer Doug LaMalfa (CA-01).   

“America is composed of many regions with unique resources and needs, and one-size-fits-all governance of our natural resources doesn’t work. I appreciate the Trump Administration for recognizing the unique needs of the Great Plains and Mountain West by creating the Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains. This office will be a valuable resource to Nebraska and our region, and will streamline solvable problems with speedy and safe solutions,” said Congressman Adrian Smith (NE-03). 

“Today’s Environmental Protection Agency announcement of the creation of the Office of Mountain, Deserts and Plains is welcome news for those who call the West home. The Agency’s meaningful realignment of operations isn’t about where the functions of our federal government are performed, but instead, how the Agency will better address the issues and leverage essential Agency staff to meet the needs of our communities. I applaud the EPA for listening to the needs of our region, and I look forward to working with Assistant Administrator for Land & Emergency Management Peter Wright and the new Director of the Office of Mountain, Deserts and Plains,” said Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03). 

"The creation of this office is good news for California and particularly for my district. The new office will ensure a much-needed focus on western federal lands and issues that are unique to communities in our region, especially hardrock mining cleanup efforts. I applaud the EPA for their commitment to the West," said Congressman Paul Cook (CA-08). 

Background

The announcement took place in Colorado Springs, CO and was attended by Western Caucus Vice Chairman for the Departments of Energy and Interior Dan Newhouse and Vice Chairman for Defense and Veterans Doug Lamborn. 

Background courtesy of the EPA

Today, the 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 office 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.

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.

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