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New EPA Office Could Help with Mine Cleanup in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality

Oklahoma officials hope to benefit from a new Environmental Protection Agency office tasked with coordinating mine cleanup west of the Mississippi River.

The EPA’s Denver-based Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains will encourage Good Samaritan cleanup projects and other remediation not done by the agency itself.

EPA Region Eight Administrator Greg Sopkin said abandoned mines present environmental hazards that need to be addressed.

"The situation is more challenging because many historic mining sites do not have any viable current or former operators to address the cleanup of these mining sites," Sopkin said.

Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken Wagner said the new office will help push progress on an infamous site.

"This office will be vitally involved in one of the country’s largest and most complicated mining Superfund sites, called Tar Creek. It was a historic lead and zinc mine, and it spans actually three states. Oklahoma has the brunt of it," Wagner said.

The Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains is not receiving additional federal funding. Critics of the office say it could allow partial cleanups and let companies escape liability for pollution by starting "re-mining" projects at old sites.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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