MAC: Mines and Communities

A super fund - but not a super agency

Published by MAC on 2004-11-16

A super fund - but not a super agency

Britain's largest company, BP- Arco, has promised to pay the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up the most toxic mine site in the USA. This is part of the Superfund programme (CERCLA) - the largest reclamation and rehabilitation programme in the world - which the EPA claims to be expanding.

So far so good. However environmental groups say it doesn't mean overall improvements to water and air quality. On the contrary, the EPA is likely to cut back even more on enforcement actions against big industrial polluters and coal-fired plants in particular

ARCO to Pay $50 Million for Montana Superfund Cleanup Environmental News Service

Environmental News Service (ENS)

November 16, 2004

HELENA, Montana - The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have reached an agreement with Atlantic Richfield in a consent decree reimbursing the federal government for cleanup costs at four portions of the Clark Fork Basin Superfund sites in Montana.

The consent decree was negotiated to cover EPA cleanup costs in the Clark Fork Basin from the early 1980s until July 31, 2002.

The EPA has been in litigation over these costs in the federal district court for Montana for many years with the Atlantic Richfield Company - a subsidiary of British Petroleum, commonly known as ARCO.

Under the agreement, the EPA will receive $50 million in payments from ARCO and another $12 million from the US Judgement Fund, for a total of $62 million.

As part of the agreement, ARCO will agree not to assert liability defenses against the United States for reimbursement for the considerable costs it has incurred at the sites or for the conduct of future cleanup actions.

The agreement also settles all of ARCO's counterclaims against several federal agencies which ARCO claims are also liable parties under Superfund.

"This excellent settlement recovers substantial funds that can be used for cleanup at these Superfund sites, and it clears the way for future Clark Fork Basin settlements with Atlantic Richfield that will vastly improve conditions in the basin," said John Cruden, deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Justice Department.

"The citizens of Montana will benefit greatly from this settlement, which should expedite future cleanup efforts from Butte to Anaconda and along the Clark Fork River," said William Mercer, the U.S. attorney for the District of Montana.

The areas covered under the consent decree are the Anaconda Smelter Site, the Clark Fork River Operable Unit of the Clark Fork River/Milltown Reservoir Sediments Site, and the Warm Springs Ponds and Butte Priority Soils Operable Units of the Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area Site.

The Anaconda Smelter Site covers 300 square miles at the southern end of the Deer Lodge Valley, at and near the location of the former Anaconda Minerals Company ore processing facilities. These facilities were developed to remove copper from ore mined in Butte from about 1884 through 1980, when the smelter closed. Milling and smelting produced wastes with high concentrations of arsenic, as well as copper, cadmium, lead and zinc.

The Clark Fork River/Milltown Reservoir Sediments Site begins just below Warm Springs Ponds in the Deer Lodge Valley and runs 120 miles downstream to the Milltown Dam just east of Missoula. The river and reservoir are contaminated with metals and arsenic from historic mining, milling and smelting activities.

The boundary of the Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area site begins above Butte, near the Continental Divide, and extends westward along Silver Bow Creek to and including the Warm Springs Ponds. The site covers 26 miles of stream and streamside habitat. Silver Bow Creek was a conduit for mining, smelting, industrial and municipal wastes for more than 100 years. Vast mine tailings deposits are found along the creek. These deposits contain elevated levels of metals and have been dispersed over the entire flood plain. The site also includes the cities of Butte and Walkerville.

"We are accomplishing two important goals with this agreement. First, the cleanup of the Clark Fork River, Butte, Anaconda, and Warm Springs Pond sites will move forward," said Tom Skinner, acting assistant administrator, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "And second, the people responsible for this problem will pay for that cleanup."

"This settlement will hopefully streamline future discussions with ARCO for the remaining cleanup actions in the Clark Fork Basin," said Carol Rushin, U.S. EPA Region 8 Assistant Regional Administrator for Enforcement. "We're very pleased we were able to reach an agreement with ARCO."

The agreement, reached November 5, will be the subject of a 30 day public comment period after the Justice Department issues a Federal Register notice for the settlement, which is still pending.

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