23 March 2009

Rally 'Round the Creek

[This post is modified from a Montana Public Radio commentary by me for the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee (CFRTAC).]

You're invited to: Rally 'Round the Creek, a public event for the Butte community about the health of Silver Bow Creek. Butte Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, 1000 George Street, 6 - 8 p.m. Tuesday, 07 April.

The shamrock plant on our dining room table is blooming, Butte just got hit by a big snowstorm, and the bars have been unusually crowded: must be St Paddy’s Day, with springtime close at hand.

As spring and snowmelt renew the landscape, so must we renew our commitment to this beautiful land that we live in.

This applies at the national as well as the local level. Lois Gibbs was an upstate New York housewife who led a revolution in grassroots environmental activism when her Love Canal neighborhood was declared America’s first Superfund site. She founded the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, which has helped communities such as Opportunity organize against the powerful, polluting Arco-British Petroleum corporation. The Center also takes a stand on environmental policy issues of national importance.

Gibbs’ center just released a report about the current status of Superfund. Two problems are especially relevant to us here in Montana.

One problem is that corporations are increasingly using bankruptcy to evade the cost of environmental cleanup. Gold mining companies such as Pegasus have long used this ploy, but now it has spread to larger corporations such as ASARCO. Courts have ordered EPA to close this loophole, so let’s hope that problem is put to rest.

The other problem is at the very heart of the original Superfund legislation, which emphasized the “polluter pays” principle. When a responsible party such as Arco-British Petroleum is still in business, EPA holds it accountable for cleanup costs. However, many Superfund sites are the legacy of long extinct companies. In that case, a “super fund” was supposed to foot the bill.

Unfortunately, Congress allowed the Superfund tax on polluting corporations to lapse in 1995, and the fund went bankrupt in 2003. Since that time, the polluter has NOT paid: instead, we the people have been picking up the tab to the tune of more than one billion dollars per year.

Gibbs writes, “The time to act is now. The country cannot afford to continue bailing out polluters while the list of unfunded sites grows. Congress should restore the polluter pays fees and enable Superfund to move forward and respond to new toxic threats. The core principle of the Superfund program is that polluters, not taxpayers, should pay to clean up these deadly toxic waste sites…”

Let’s hope Representative Rehberg and Senators Tester & Baucus are listening.

Closer to home, the EPA-funded Technical Advisory Groups CTEC and CFRTAC are hosting an event called “Rally ‘Round the Creek” on Tuesday, April seventh. The event will educate folks about the Silver Bow Creek cleanup, ongoing problems, and proposed solutions. In addition to the talking heads, there will be activities for children and plenty of opportunity to chat with your neighbors about this important issue.

Silver Bow Creek, the headwaters of the Clark Fork River, has been the subject of a three million dollar per mile cleanup effort. Yet this cleanup is being recontaminated and is further threatened by toxic metals in runoff from the Butte hill.

Although the Butte hill Record of Decision for remedy was signed more than two years ago, it is stalled in the so-called Consent Decree. In the Consent Decree, the parties – Arco-BP, EPA, and Montana – must come to an agreement about how the remedy will be implemented. The Record of Decision was vague, allowing a whole series of trial-and-error strategies that could take twenty years to stop polluting Silver Bow Creek.

Simple solutions that are likely to be effective – such as capturing polluted runoff in a settling and treatment basin – should be tried sooner rather than later.

Silver Bow Creek’s recovery has begun, as evidenced by trout and other fishes found in recent surveys. We know that one day Silver Bow Creek can be returned to a self-sustaining wild trout fishery and a fantastic place for Butte families and visitors to recreate.

But we cannot take environmental restoration for granted. Unless the remedies for Butte and the creek that runs through it are coordinated, things could get much, much worse. We believe that agencies such as Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality want to do the right thing, but it’s always easier for government to do the right thing when people actively support that choice. As we like to say here at CFRTAC: It’s your creek. Wade in, and help make the future.

Come and join us at Rally ‘Round the Creek. The event is at Butte’s Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on 1000 George Street, on the banks of Silver Bow Creek. The date is Tuesday, April seventh, from six to eight p.m.


troutbirder said...

I remember the Love Canal story very well. I had been invited to participate in the development of a state curriculum project on toxic waste. Unfortunately, small town teacher was invited because a superfund site was to be established near our community. You are definitely to be commended for your efforts, Eco.

EcoRover said...

Thanks, Troutbirder. Interesting backstory: Lois Gibbs, the housewife turned environmental activist that led the Love Canal fight, is sister to Kathy Hadley, who runs the National Center for Appropriate Technology here in Butte. Kathy and her husband Wayne, a now retired state fisheries biologist, led the battle to have our Clark Fork River included in the area's Superfund listings.

Brian said...

Is it safe to drink water from the watershed backpacking up in the Pintler or does all this toxic crap get in there too?I see the ole' Anaconda Smelter isn't too far down the road.Thanks for your efforts.Roly rocks.