28 January 2009

Citizen's Environmental Group Gets its Feet on the Ground

Butte, Montana's "Citizens Technical Environmental Committee" (CTEC) is once again getting its feet on the ground. Given Butte's prominence at the headwaters of America's largest Superfund megasite, it is good to see folks getting environmentally active again. CTEC was founded c. 1989, was extremely active during the Record of Decision (ROD) process for the Silver Bow Creek site (Stream Side Tailings Operable Unit), but then languished during the ROD for the Butte Hill (Butte Priority Soils OU).

CTEC's rennaissance was led by some members of the Butte Restoration Alliance, another citizen's group formed recently by Butte-Silver Bow County (BSB) to "help the community work together to take full advantage of opportunities for restoration and redevelopment" and "make recommendations to the Council of Commissioners on various projects and priorities."

CTEC met yesterday to consider a CTEC/BRA merger. The potential merger seems to be driven by two concerns:
(1) CTEC is funded (by an EPA Technical Assistance Grant "TAG")whereas BRA has no funding (it was established with a $40K appropriation from BSB, but that is gone); and
(2) CTEC is a 501(c)3 incorporated not-for-profit, whereas BRA is not; with a merger, BRA could use CTEC's non-profit status to apply for and manage grants.

CTEC folks sit around the table:

Steve Ackerlund, a consultant who has worked with Rimini Community, Inc. (RMI; note that the linked article does not present a favorable view of Ackerlund, RMI, or the EPA), the TAG grant group for the Upper Tenmile Creek Mining Area Superfund site near Helena, Montana, addressed the meeting. Ackerlund suggested, and I think he is right, that an EPA TAG group must go beyond digesting technical information for a lay audience. An effective TAG must also (1) negotiate citizen concerns effectively with the EPA and (2) facilitate community action on broader concerns in ways that build capacity.

Still, Ackerlund's presentation did not speak clearly to whether a BRA/CTEC merger is a good idea. In discussion, Elizabeth Erickson facilitated a pro/con list for the merger.

Ackerlund (left) and Erickson:

Cons (against a merger):
* CTEC's autonomy as a group (many BRA members might want to curb environmental activism)
* CTEC's ability to act in a timely fashion (BRA has a cumbersome & slow consensus process)
* CTEC's attractiveness to activists that might not share broader BRA concerns
* the advantage of having an additional group voice to influence EPA decisions (the more voices, the better)
* CTEC's mission becoming diluted by broader and less environmentally inclined BRA members

Pros (for a merger):
* a more streamlined single organization
* fewer meetings for people to attend
* a broader alliance within BRA
* BRA's ability to procure and manage funds as a 501(c)3

As an environmental activist who supports but does not want to be involved in the work of the BRA, I did not see many advantages for CTEC as an environmental group.

An option to merger would be for a letter of understanding so that:
* CTEC would share membership with the environmental subcommittee of the BRA
* CTEC would act as a conduit for BRA funding
* CTEC decisions would not have to be vetted through BRA's governance structure

In pondering a possible CTEC/BRA merger, I thought of our neighbors down river in Missoula. A number of groups with clearly overlapping interests and membership retain their individual identity while focusing on their own special mission. Groups such as the Clark Fork Coalition, Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee, Milltown Redevelopment Working Group, and Friend of Two Rivers come together & concentrate their force when it is in their interest to do so. This model promotes diversity and is also extremely effective in mobilizing the broadest possible community action, as seen with the successful effort to persuade EPA/ARCO to remove the Milltown Dam.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Thanks for this summary. I might add under "cons" the question raised by Josh Y. about membership - the Alliance is restricted, and CTEC is open. How would that be accommodated in a merger? Cheers - Dick Gibson