20 July 2007

Social Justice in Anaconda & Opportunity

[modified from my 12 July radio commentary for Montana Public Radio, KUFM, on behalf of the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee]

Wow, the weather is hot and the Clark Fork River feels like bathwater. Though the scientific community solidly agrees on the reality of global warming, it’s interesting that radical reactionary groups – such as FOX News – still deny it. Well, DeNile ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Sadly, the Upper Clark Fork River can also be a river of denial.

Environmental justice is a special form of social justice, and it’s a nagging problem for some environmental and human health problems in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

The Deer Lodge County towns of Anaconda and Opportunity have, especially, taken it in the shorts. The problems are many, and regular EcoRover blog readers are familiar with most of them.

The EPA refuses to rename its big waste repository, the Opportunity Ponds, to something like “The British Petroleum—ARCO Ponds” that does not cast aspersions on the cool little town of Opportunity.

The EPA set soil and house dust arsenic levels in Anaconda and Opportunity ten times higher than national norms, and much higher than arsenic levels in the Clark Fork River and Milltown sites.

The EPA approved a golf course tailings cover-up that is failing and will probably go bankrupt once British Petroleum-ARCO hands it off to Anaconda.

The EPA, after a lousy site characterization, approved a brown fields commercial development for Anaconda, only to have the developer strike a goldmine of buried toxic waste, for which it is now suing the town.

Compared with other counties in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin, Deer Lodge County has a declining population, the highest unemployment in the region (over 10%), and a much lower per capita income (about $20,000).

The EPA remedies for Opportunity and Anaconda site were selected without social justice issues coming to light. Whereas grass roots groups organized and became major actors in larger communities such as Missoula and Butte, Opportunity and Anaconda citizens were relatively quiet, unorganized, and passive. According to agency policy, it is virtually impossible to reopen a remedy.

The role of environmental justice in remedy selection and waste repository siting signifies a major shift in the Superfund process that moves us well beyond the now-traditional polluter pays principle. Though a 1994 Federal Executive Order, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low Income Populations," initiated this shift, it has not produced meaningful results for Anaconda or Opportunity.

In a federally funded study of another Superfund megasite caused by mining, the authors found that “Lack of access to adequate health care, unemployment, poverty, and a number of other factors can have as much of an impact on community health as the contamination from mining wastes.” Though such problems lie outside the purview of Superfund, these problems are factors that influence the social perception of the Superfund process and public participation in the process in profound ways.

The application of social justice ideals to Superfund sites caused by mining and smelting reveal structural inequities that transcend Superfund. The nature of mining as the extraction of non-renewable resources necessarily means that a bust follows the boom. The larger the ore body and the longer it lasts, the more tenaciously people cling to the place where they have grown up, worked, and raised families. Thus all mining megasites are likely to eventually result in wide-scale unemployment and a cycle of poverty and poor health. The very nature of mining seems to create social and environmental injustice—especially if communities with a history of having benefited from mining do not become major actors and achieve power early on in the Superfund process.

Recently, Montana’s Natural Resource Damage Program seems to be reinforcing the same environmental injustices that have been stamped into Anaconda and Opportunity by the EPA. In its 2007 grant cycle, the Natural Resource Damage Program rates Anaconda’s proposal for a waterline project very low, and recommends against funding the proposal. Why? Because the county is poor: the low proportion of matching funds that Anaconda-Deer Lodge is able to bring to the table seems to be the decisive factor in the recommendation not to fund.

Thus is Anaconda treated unjustly. As a company town, it suffered horribly with the demise of the Anaconda Company and mismanagement by British Petroleum-ARCO. As a town of older, poorer citizens, it has been unable to generate the revenue or lobbying power of Butte and Missoula. For these reasons, the town now finds itself unable to compete with other proposals in the Natural Resource Damage Program funding process. This is wrong, wrong, wrong!

Anaconda-Deer Lodge County has fallen into a post-industrial economic abyss. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resource Damage Program should be doing what they can to help Anaconda and Opportunity climb out of this trap. Instead, they seem to making it deeper. The Environmental Protection Agency refuses to allow the county to participate in Superfund decisions, fund adequate technical and legal expertise, or support redevelopment assistance.

Anaconda is doing its part with an aggressive public outreach campaign, a business and housing growth plan, and active engagement in the remediation and restoration process. It is high time for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resource Damage Program to do their part.

For more news about Anaconda, Opportunity, and other Superfund issues, please check out CFRTAC’s website at hyperlink http://www.cfrtac.org/.


Anonymous said...

Could you provide any evidence of when and where the scientific community decided to accept global warming as fact?

Pat Munday said...

A nice overview of the science regarding global warming is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming. The scientific consensus emerged very gradually, from the first studies of the global warming phenomenon in the late 19th century to the abundance of evidence collected from the 1970s on. Up until about 1990, there was a genuine debate in the scientific literature regarding the reality of global warming and the significance of the anthropogenic contribution. For more information and a key scientific source, see my earlier (co-authored) post at 01Dec2006 http://ecorover.blogspot.com/2006/12/global-warming-is-here.html .

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. After re-reading my initial post I realize it may have seemed like I was attacking your position, although that was not my intent. I've often heard others refer to the scientific consensus, but until following a few links from the Wiki page (and your previous blog) I hadn't read much literature regarding the topic. As a scientist (not a petroleum geologist) I've always remained skeptical to accept the theory of human-induced warming, but the links provided give a good overview of the topic. I'll probably always remain a skeptic, but I'll read on regardless. Excellent blog. I stumbled upon the page while searching for info on Mount Haggin.