Is it really possible for a town that was built on extraction to experience a complete paradigm shift – towards reclamation and renewal? What does moving on from a toxic mess of this magnitude even mean? And what could Butte stand for in a post Superfund world?
The core of the Superfund deal itself, and how it proposes to solve Butte’s lingering environmental problems forever, is really important and complicated, both legally and technically. And no wonder. Three levels of government — the county, state and feds — plus a former oil company, all had to settle their differences, and agree on how to clean up, once and for all, the rest of the environmental bust left behind by Butte’s historic copper mining boom.
So today, we’re gonna try to get our arms all the way around it. And take a closer look at what’s actually in this very big deal, and whether the Mining City believes that after all of its sacrifices, this is a big enough reward. This is Episode 9: Butte Never Says Die.
During his reign, President Trump has radically transformed the Environmental Protection Agency. I haven’t known how to square the EPA’s cheerleading on Superfund with the Trump Administration’s overall track record on the environment, and whether all the action we’re seeing in Butte, Montana is the Superfund exception, or the rule.
If we really want to understand what’s happening here and why — and what kind of example this EPA is trying to make out of Butte’s toxic mess — we’re gonna have to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. So today, Richest Hill goes to Washington and back again.
After reporting on Superfund for several years, it’s obvious to me that everyone here wants the best possible cleanup for their town. And, there are very different definitions of what that means.
A lot of folks in Butte are fired up about bringing this stretch of long-dead creek back to life. And on the surface, I get it. Superfund is huge and complicated, full of thousands of pages of technical documents, and abstract legal requirements like water quality standards. Whereas a beautiful free flowing stream? That’s something tangible, easy to get jazzed up about.
But considering how far and wide the environmental damage from mining spread, how did re-creating one mile of skinny creek become the ruler by which Superfund is measured? And what can we discover about the cleanup from the drama over this little body of water?
This season on Richest Hill you’ve been hearing all about what mining meant for Butte, the toxic legacy it left behind, and about sprawling efforts to clean it up that have spanned more than 30 years.
And this week, something big is gonna happen.
After more than 30 years in limbo, without a final cleanup agreement, the ink is drying on Butte’s big Superfund deal as we speak. What it means and why it matters has everything to do with what played out when Superfund came to Montana’s Mining City. So today we’re asking: back in those early days of Superfund, who were the players, and what was the game?
This is episode 06: Our Most Cherished Beliefs.
From Evel Knievel to a ‘Great Flood’ and on to the dawning of the Superfund era, Episode 5 looks at the origins of the government program designed to force whoever made the mess to clean it up.
Did you know that when Superfund arrived in Montana, it didn’t start on the Butte Hill, blanketed in raw mine dumps? Or even at the giant Berkeley Pit, left for dead and flooding with acid mine drainage. It started 120 miles downstream of Butte with tainted tap water at an old hydroelectric dam just outside the liberal stronghold college town of Missoula.
Learn more now with Episode 5: Out of the Frying Pan, Into The Fire.
I live a mile away from the Berkeley Pit, the mile by mile and a half wide former open-pit mine, which is now filled with a 50 billion gallon toxic lake. Every time I visit, I leave hyper aware of the contradictions and compromises that go hand in glove with industrialization. I find myself wondering: who thought chiseling a colossal hole in the Earth was a good idea, and why? So today, let’s take a dive, figuratively, into open pit mining and some controversial decisions made late last century that changed Butte’s land, people, and environmental legacy forever. This is Episode 4: We Gave it to the Pit.
We’re hard at work on episode 4, and still covering lots of Superfund news in Butte right now. In the mean time, meet one of the artists who’s contributed to this project behind the scenes.
BT Livermore,”maker of things and provider of services,” designed the Richest Hill logo, and does lots of other creative work in the Mining City. He explains the thinking behind the logo, and why he feels a sense of hope in Butte.
Stay tuned for episode 4, coming your way soon. You’ll learn how the Berkeley Pit took the lid off mining and changed the economy and ecology of Butte forever.
In August 1917, Frank Little was the victim of a grisly murder in Butte. Little was a labor organizer who came to Butte to unify and radicalize Butte’s miners in their fight against the Anaconda Mining Company for higher wages and safer working conditions. Most historians believe that the Anaconda Company was behind Little’s killing, but no one knows for sure. A note pinned to his underwear threatened, “Others take notice: first and last warning,” along with the numbers 3-7-77, the calling card of frontier vigilantes.