The Western News: Sen. Danes asks EPA to ensure Libby residents not pay for future cleanup

Sen. Steve Daines on Thursday sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of Libby, asking the agency to ensure that local government or homeowners are not held liable for future cleanup costs related to the Asbestos Superfund site. 

The letter comes after Daines visited Libby on April 14, when he sat down with local leaders at Hav-A-Java coffeeshop to discuss ongoing planning for the site’s operations and maintenance phase. 

“I heard directly from Lincoln County leaders regarding their concerns that property owners and local government could be held liable for future clean-up costs of the Libby Asbestos Superfund site,” Daines said in a prepared statement. “I’ve asked the EPA to work with local officials and community leaders before making any consequential decisions regarding a long-term maintenance plan for the site.” 

In his letter, addressed to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Daines wrote that “my constituents have a strong desire to have their input taken into account in the development of EPA’s O&M plan for the site.”

Acknowledging that the risk of exposure to asbestos remains despite years of mitigation work paid for by the EPA and W.R. Grace settlement funds, Daines wrote that “covering the cost of future residential exposure would prove to be a significant hardship” to Lincoln County residents who “operate on tight budgets.”

“Given the robust funds that already exist for purposes of cleanup, I trust that you can reach common ground on a plan for resolution of such scenarios should they arise,” Daines wrote. “Montanans deserve to live in a clean environment and should not be forced to bear the brunt of shortcomings in the Superfund cleanup process.”

“Senator Daines has done exactly what we asked,” said Rep. Steve Gunderson, who was among the local officials who met for coffee with Daines. “(We) asked the senator to open dialog with EPA Administrator Pruitt to make sure that the citizens and local governments of Lincoln County are not financially burdened by future remediation costs.” 

Daines’ letter also follows a statement released earlier this year by a City-County Board of Health committee. In it, the county asserted its position that “property owners will not bear the cost of any future issues” related to the site and that the county’s “support of or participation in O&M elements will be based on this position.”

The county’s position was predicated by seemingly inconsistent and infrequent communications by the EPA regarding who is responsible for the monitoring and maintenance — and any associated costs — of the cleanup remedy the agency has spent years putting in place.

Of primary concern is a page from the EPA’s final Record of Decision, issued February 2016, concerning the site’s operating units 4 through 8. The section pertaining to the operations and maintenance phase states that aspects of monitoring and maintenance “will be left to the property owner” and that “information will be provided to assist property owners and their contractors in understanding the appropriate maintenance procedures that apply to their properties.”