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EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Congressman Jason Smith made a stop in Fredericktown July 31 to visit the Missouri Cobalt mine.

"We are here today, actually, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, the SRI," Wheeler said. "As we speak, each of our regional offices, we have 10 regional offices around the country, are hosting similar events at superfund sites around the country."

Wheeler said he came to the Madison Mine site because it reflects the importance of redevelopment and the power of the EPA Superfund Project to be able to transform abandoned or neglected sites into hubs of economic opportunity. 

"Before the launch of the SRI, the Superfund Program was primarily concerned with cleaning up hazardous sites, redevelopment often took a backseat but SRI changed that," Wheeler said. "The long-term productive use of superfund sites is now a major factor in the cleanup process. By incorporating reuse early in the process, SRI ensures that future units are compatible with site remedies."

Wheeler said ensuring long-term use keeps sites that underwent extensive and expensive cleanups from sitting vacant or underused.

"Since its inception, the SRI has provided reuse support for more than 350 Superfund Projects," Wheeler said. "It also shares important reuse information from almost 1,000 sites which helps other sites incorporate helpful reuse strategies. Today approximately 1,000 Superfund Sites are currently in reuse."

Wheeler said EPA has data on 529 Superfund Sites which support more than 8,000 businesses. He said those businesses generated $52 billion in sales during fiscal year 2018 which is four times the amount EPA spent on the sites. The sites employee more than 195,000 people in a variety of industries.

"We are gathered here today because this site is a tremendous example of redevelopment," Wheeler said. "Once a former lead mine, Madison Mine also holds an estimated 35 million pounds of recoverable cobalt which would make it the largest such reserve in North America."

Wheeler said the importance of cobalt in today's economy can not be understated. He said it is essential to America's long-term security and prosperity.

"Cobalt is a critical component of jet engines, medical devices, lithium ion batteries, which power smart phones, electric vehicles and other important technologies," Wheeler said. "Global demand for cobalt has increased dramatically over the past few decades and it is no secret that China controls most of the world's cobalt production."

Wheeler said to ensure America has a secure and reliable source of cobalt, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to promote the domestic production of critical minerals including cobalt. 

"The Missouri Cobalt Mine is an important part of achieving this goal," Wheeler said. "Last November we added this site to the administrator's emphasis list because we recognize its potential and its significance. In April of this year, we were proud to announce an agreement with Missouri Cobalt to clean up what is left from the old lead mine."

Wheeler said the great thing about the agreement is while the cleanup is underway the cobalt mining can move forward. He said Missouri Cobalt has built a facility to process recoverable metals from the old tailings at the site.

"They will be able to extract cobalt from the old tailings before putting them back in the ground and safely capping them," Wheeler said. "It's this type of innovation we are working hard to promote across the Superfund Program. Missouri Cobalt saw the potential of the mine and put together a plan to take it over, clean it up and get it back to productive use."

Wheeler said the type of environmental risk transfer seen at the Madison Mine is something they hope can be adopted at other sites around the country. He said sites like this not only get the site cleaned up but created jobs at every turn.

"This is the potential of the Superfund Program and that is why we have made it a top priority for the agency under the Trump Administration," Wheeler said. "In the past it wasn’t unusual for a site to sit on a Superfund's priority list for decades. We believe a site on a national priorities list should be just that, a national priority and our actions demonstrate that."

Wheeler said in fiscal year 2018, 22 sites were deleted from the Superfund National Priority List, the most sites since 2005 and the EPA is on track to delete even more in fiscal year 2019.

"Earlier this month President Trump hosted an event at the White House to share his administration's environmental progress with the American public," Wheeler said. "It was tremendously encouraging to hear the president tout our Superfund project progress. He understands the transformational power of Superfund and he understands the importance of cobalt mines like this one."

Wheeler said, through Superfund, they can protect the environment and promote economic growth at the same time.

"The president knows this, Congressman Smith knows this, Missouri Cobalt knows this and that’s why we are here today," Wheeler said. "I want to thank you all for your time and your attention and thank you for the opportunity to visit with you today and most of all, I want to thank you all for turning this site to productive use employing people.

"I understand they will eventually be employing at least another 600 people by the time this site is fully operational. I commend the company, and I’m encouraged by all the actions that I’ve seen today on the tour. Thank you very much and thank you for being here."

Smith said he thought it was fitting to bring the administrator of the EPA into Madison County to see the progress in a good form.

"Our district, our area, is rich is natural resources that can help power technology, that can help defend our country," Smith said. "This is the first mine in the state of Missouri that’s been reopened since 1983. 1983 and it was under the direction of President Trump and Administrator Wheeler and we are thrilled to have them here."

The site which was purchased by Missouri Mining Inc. (MMI) in 2018 has pledged to clean up and restore mining operations in order to extract cobalt. Missouri Cobalt LLC, a company affiliated with MMI, has since constructed a tailing processing facility to recover metals from existing mine waste, creating more than 30 jobs.

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Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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