BUTTE, Mont. — A newspaper wants a judge to lift a confidentiality order on the Butte Hill Superfund site settlement talks, saying the public deserves to know what government agencies are negotiating in the mining pollution cleanup that will affect the community for decades to come.
The Montana Standard and an environmental advocacy group called the Silver Bow Creek Headwaters Coalition filed a request Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Butte to intervene in the case between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Atlantic Richfield Co.
If U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon allows the newspaper and environmental group to intervene, they plan to argue that Haddon’s 2002 order to keep settlement negotiations secret block access to what would otherwise be public information.
“At the Montana Standard we believe that when three levels of government — state, federal and local — are holding talks that will affect life in Butte for generations, the public is entitled to know what’s going on in real time,” editor David McCumber said, according to a story posted on the newspaper’s website (http://bit.ly/2cQqYZ8 ).
The case is over cleanup issues left from decades of mining pollution from what was dubbed “the Richest Hill on Earth.” The Anaconda Copper Mining Corp., starting in the late 1800s, mined and smelted copper in Butte and dumped tailings into Silver Bow Creek.
Atlantic Richfield bought Anaconda Copper in 1977, and six years later, the EPA listed Silver Bow Creek and Butte area as a federal Superfund site. The U.S. government filed its lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield in 1989 to recover costs in connection with the cleanup.
Haddon signed an order in the case in 2002 that kept the settlement negotiations between the government and Atlantic Richfield confidential. That confidentiality extended to involvement of other agencies, including the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Butte-Silver Bow government.
Those two government agencies denied public-records requests by the Montana Standard earlier this year for documents related to the Superfund negotiations.
Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent said he supports more openness in the talks.
“These meetings have been closed for over 14 years, and even though we’re making progress now, we still don’t have a consent decree. What harm could a little sunlight possibly do?” Vincent said.
Gov. Steve Bullock said the state will follow the judge’s orders, but he prefers the talks to be open.
Atlantic Richfield officials declined to comment on the newspaper’s request to intervene and EPA officials did not immediately respond to comment, the Standard reported.
Information from: The Montana Standard, http://www.mtstandard.com