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?
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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.
Hi all, Richest Hill host Nora Saks here. I wanted to pop in real quick to let you know that episode 9, which we’re calling ‘Butte never says die,’ is almost done and will be out very soon.
In the mean time, I want to tell you about another podcast coming your way. It’s called Shared State and it’s a collaboration between Montana Public Radio, Yellowstone Public Radio and Montana Free Press. It’s the first time we’re all doing something together like this, and it’s worth your time.
Nora Saks, the reporter and host for Montana Public Radio’s Richest Hill podcast has been awarded the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.
Richest Hill dives deep into the history of Butte, MT to tell the colorful and complicated story of how the city became one of America’s most notorious Superfund sites. Nora and producer Nick Mott have released 8 episodes in the 10 part series.
“It’s great to see Nora’s hard work and talent recognized,” MTPR News Director Corin Cates-Carney said. “Her work on the Richest Hill podcast is an outstanding journalistic service to MTPR listeners and audiences around the country.”
The Schorr Prize is named for the late NPR senior news analyst and veteran Washington journalist Daniel Schorr. Schorr was a believer in supporting talented young journalists as they rose through the ranks of public radio. The annual prize — sponsored by WBUR and Boston University, and funded by Jim and Nancy Bildner — salutes a new generation of public radio journalists under the age of 35, seeking to inspire them to stretch the boundaries of the medium.
“Richest Hill is consistently excellent, and Nora set a high bar for young reporters and storytellers to aspire to. She hooked me with a story that I didn’t even know I cared about,” said Lynette Clemetson, director of the Wallace House, University of Michigan, who served as the prize’s finalist judge.
Nora will be presented with the prize at a virtual event for The Edward R. Murrow Society, on Tuesday, September 15.
Past Schorr Prize winners include WBEZ producer Becky Vevea; KUNC reporter Grace Hood; NPR host David Greene; NPR reporter Ailsa Chang; reporter Chana Joffe-Walt, who covers global economics for NPR’s multimedia project Planet Money; former NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz, host of How I Built This and the TED Radio Hour; and NPR investigative correspondent Laura Sullivan.
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.