Montana Standard: Sen. Daines urges EPA’s top administrator to put Butte on ‘Top 10’ list

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., urged the Environmental Protection Agency’s top administrator Scott Pruitt to consider the Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area in Pruitt’s “Top 10” list in a letter sent earlier this week.

An EPA report, released in late July, laid out recommendations for how Pruitt could speed up the Superfund process. Creating a “Top 10” list of Superfund sites that Pruitt would personally oversee was one of the suggestions.

There is no time frame for how quickly Pruitt will name his Top 10, EPA spokesperson Enesta Jones said in a written statement from the Washington, D.C. office Wednesday.

Daines specifically pointed to the Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area Superfund site in his letter as one of the 17 Montana Superfund sites that could use attention from Pruitt. The Butte site “serves as a strong example of one in Montana that would benefit from inclusion on your list,” he wrote.

Daines noted that after more than a decade of negotiations, the Butte Hill lacks a final agreement over the cleanup. The Butte Hill is one section of the larger Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area Superfund site, which runs close to 30 miles from the Berkeley Pit to Warm Springs Ponds, northwest of Butte.

Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento recently vowed during a visit to Butte within weeks of his appointment by President Donald Trump that he intends to have that legal agreement in place by early next year.

EPA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters acknowledged that Pruitt’s office received Daines’ letter this week. Jones said the agency “will respond via proper channels.”

Daines also pointed to nearby Anaconda Co. smelter site in his letter as an area that has “… ample work to be done with respect to sampling residences and schools for lead …”

Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Chief Executive Bill Everett recently raised the issue of testing for lead and arsenic in the attics and air ducts inside Anaconda’s three schools to Benevento. Lincoln Elementary School is in east Anaconda, which is the neighborhood that has shown the highest amount of lead and arsenic from the former Anaconda smelter.

Exposure to lead lowers IQ and can cause developmental delays in children.

Benevento said last month EPA will take a closer look at public health in Anaconda.

The long-defunct Washoe Smelter stopped operating in 1980, after around 80 years of emitting tons of arsenic and lead, as well as other heavy metals. Mining and smelting damaged Butte and Silver Bow Creek with heavy metals.

Daines said in his letter that he has heard repeatedly from Everett “about the need for more diligence on this site.”

Daines’ spokesperson Marcie Kinzel said Daines is “looking forward to a decision (by Pruitt) and is hopeful that this letter will ensure Montana is on the Top 10 list.”

Butte’s longtime Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily said he is encouraged by Daines’ letter, saying that “to get things done, we need bipartisan support.”

Everett said he is “very happy” with Daines’ letter.

“We need (EPA) involvement. They carry a bigger stick than we do,” Everett said.

Anaconda Local Development Corporation executive director Jim Davidson, who has been involved in Anaconda’s cleanup for decades, said it makes sense to put Anaconda on Pruitt’s top 10 list.

“We are part of the largest and oldest Superfund site. It’ll take another 15 to 20 years to cleanup. We should be on the top 10 priority,” Davidson said.

Daines also mentioned the Libby, Montana site, where the contamination is still “present in the community.”

Daines’ letter said that since some of the Montana sites are “some of the most expansive in the nation, there is a clear need for at least one Montana site to be among those to which you will pay utmost attention.”

The Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area and Anaconda Superfund sites are considered the largest Superfund complex in the U.S.

Daines also mentioned the other 14 Superfund sites in Montana which “span as far as Yellowstone County and all of them continue to hurt Montana communities every day.”

“I urge your continued commitment to finding more expeditious – while simultaneously environmentally and healthily protective – remediation solutions to all Superfund sites in Montana, along with the listing of at least one among your Top Ten,” Daines wrote.