08 May 2008

Dennis Washington: The New Copper King

Wow, Dennis Washington gave $10,000 to Butte in support of the folk festival!

The "wow" is because this is such a pitifully small amount, given both Washington's huge wealth and the Butte/National Folk Festival's need to raise 3 million dollars.

You see, just one of Washington's companies, Washington Group International, posted more than 80 million dollars in profit last year. Another of his holdings, The Washington Companies, includes Montana Resources, Envirocon, and Montana Rail Link--all very profitable businesses in their own right. Washington makes money coming (by gathering and hauling mine waste from Milltown to Opportunity) and going (from the Continental Pit) in our area.

Like his Copper King predecessors, Dennis Washington operates a giant conveyor belt that permanently removes wealth from Butte. Marcus Daly had his mansion in Hamilton, where he stabled his race horses. William Clark preferred New York City, where he amassed a fantastic art collection. Their combined assets became the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. The ACM left Butte a legacy costing hundreds of millions of dollars in Superfund remedy. The ACM's environmental legacy for the entire upper Clark Fork River Basing is approximately 1 billion dollars.

Dennis Washington secludes himself on a large private estate on Stuart Island in British Columbia. His principle charity is the University of Montana in Missoula. The first million dollars in charity went to finance Grizzly stadium in 1985. The most recent 10 million dollars went to the School of Education. Missoula gets tens of millions and Butte gets tens of thousands—a ratio of one thousand to one? Last I checked, the copper and molybdenum was coming from Butte, not Missoula. Butte copper was crucial in making Washington a billioinaire. With copper and moly at record high prices, the profit margin at Montana Resources (the mining operation here in Butte) are obscene even when compared with Exxon.

Everyone can applaud the many good charitable donations from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation. Similarly, Butte is happy for the taxes paid by MR, and for the salaries and profit shares to MR employees.

However, one great question remains: the Anaconda Copper Mining Company left us the Berkeley Pit and a crumbling water supply infrastructure; What will be Dennis Washington’s legacy in Butte?


A version of this piece appeared in The Montana Standard newspaper 07 May 2008.

When Ivy Newman responded to my letter in the Montana Standard, she raised the issue of current (and sorely needed) efforts to reform the 1872 Mining Law. Here are two links she suggested for further information:

US Senator from Montana, Jon Tester's recent op-ed on Reforming the 1872 Mining Law.

Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining


Pat Munday said...

After my letter appeared in the Montana Standard, I received an email from Ivy Newman, who is a Butte native enrolled in law school. Ivy also works for the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining. Here is her message, used with permission:

Thank you for your perceptive and discerning letter to the editor in this morning's edition of the Montana Standard. When Dennis Washington announced his new Continental Pit in August of 2003, I cringed, knowing that the town would rejoice at the prospect of a return to mining. It was hailed as a blessing for the ailing local economy, but the reality of the long-term curse for the environment and economy was either missing or, more likely, dismissed and ignored.

The city of Butte and state of Montana decided that extending the degradation to the environment of the Butte hill – and therefore expanding the reclamation debt - is negligible in light of a much-needed temporary boost in the local economy. Active mining in the Continental Pit will not last forever and will likely result in the same type of environmental devastation with a lack of funds to cover reclamation. The burden of hard rock mining will once again be left on the site; possibly for hundreds or even thousands of years, while the benefits of hard rock mining will be short lived and only seen far from here. This new round of mining will end just as every other round of fortunes on the Butte hill has ended in its long tumultuous past. The profits travel far and wide while devastation remains on site.

I'm a Butte native currently residing here, but moving to Portland to start environmental law school in the fall. I currently work with the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining. We are dedicated to reforming the 1872 Mining Law. This Saturday, May 10th, marks the 136th anniversary of its signing by Ulysses S. Grant.

Genuine reform would include a royalty on minerals extracted from public lands similar to those paid by all other extractive industries in the United States. Coal, oil and gas pay as much as a 16.7% royalty. Currently there is no funding source for abandoned hardrock mine reclamation. The mining reform bill passed by the House of Representatives last year establishes a reclamation fund for abandoned hardrock mines on federal lands. There are more than 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines in the United States that will cost between $32 and $72 billion dollars to reclaim.

The Senate is dragging its feet on the mining reform issue and the chance of action in an election year is getting slimmer and slimmer. But they know they'll have to face it sooner or later.

Anyway, thank you for your letter to the editor. It's good to see that some members of the community realize how short-sighted and blind we are in our appreciation of Dennis Washington's contributions.


Ivy Newman

Consultant, Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining

Anonymous said...

Washington is a self made millionare so who are you to dog him? Most of the money came from construction before he got into mining which Butte wanted. He's done a lot for the U, just because he's not done so much for Butte, is no reason for jealousy. Maybe he puts his money where the people are, and it does more good there. Butte is Ok but Butte had it's day.


Well said Anonymous.

I wonder how much Pat Munday ,Ivy Newman and their followers Donated to the Butte fund ?. It amazes Me How people Critize the men and women that have taken the risk and had the foresight to Build the empires that gave us jobs,tax base to build our towns-hospitals-parks and colleges, which you seem to enjoy learning clever ways to malign the 1872 mining law.

Furthermore my hat is off to Dennis Washington and his lovely wife for not only the jobs, but Their contributions and donations to wherever and whoever they deem fit to help.
As far as addressing the issue of responsible mining that is a job and a responsibility we all have to address as miners, politicians,consumers,etc.

In most cases we have the technology in this day and age to economically reclaim and clean up the old mining sites if given the ability to use our technologies without the stranglehold of red tape forced upon our industry by regulations dreamed up by paper miners that don't know the difference between an adit and a hole in the ground.

So the next time you wipe your Butte or drive a car remember which industries give you these luxuries of life.
Thank You