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Berkeley is the Pits

Not just this one, I mean this one:

This is an image of the Berkeley Pit from Butte, MT. Roger Meiners introduced me to it in a talk I attended at PERC last month. Without going into too much detail, this pit was the source of very valuable copper and magnesium and other metals for nearly a half-century. The wealth generated from the development of these mineral resources is to be credited with considerable development in Montana. When mining operations ceased, the pit began to fill with groundwater, and in combination with the minerals from the open-pit have created water that is pretty yucky. The fear (a real fear) is that when the pit fills enough with water (the pit is almost 2,000 feet deep) the contaminated water will reach the elevation of the groundwater in Butte, and the water will seep into the nearby groundwater and perhaps into the Clark Fork River.

Now that is yucky. But let's ask a simple question. Why is this a SuperFund site? Or to put it more simply: why is this a federal issue? Seriously, you as taxpayers in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and New York and all over the country are having resources diverted to the clean up of this water. Now I am a big fan of clean water. But this pit was created to the benefit of the citizens of Montana. The water problem is localized to the Butte area and perhaps a little more of the Greater Yellowstone watershed (so perhaps Idaho, Wyoming and Washington state have a small interest). Can someone explain to me why the water pollution from this pit is not solely to be dealt with by Butte residents or perhaps by the state of Montana? 

Remember that many SuperFund sites are just like this one. It's yet another program that was created in the aftermath of a (government created) crisis (Love Canal) that "we" could not let go to waste and that functions as a holy symbol in the "E"nvironmental movement that at best has provided questionable environmental benefits, and we know from empirical research that the selection of Superfund sites has more to do with Political Action Committee contributions from construction companies than it does with toxicity of the sites and we also know that most of the environmental problems are limited to the local areas in which they exist. It's simply another transfer of resources from states that have not created environmental problems to those that have.

But again, symbolism is harmless, right?

2 Responses to “Berkeley is the Pits”

  1. jb says:

    welcome back Wintercow. But didn’t the copper and magnesium benefit people outside of Montana? The negative spillover costs of the mining probably were not reflected in what they paid, or am I wrong? Not that the superfund remedy is appropriate way to address it, though.

  2. Daryl Reed says:

    Wow…I don’t know where to begin with all these unsubstantiated assertions and incorrect conclusions. First, I would suggest before you write about a subject try researching to get the basic facts. Google is a good place to start and if you go to the second entry, not just the WikiPedia one, you’ll see the PitWatch.org site. There you’ll find a lot of information.

    Although it is a Superfund site, responsible parties are funding the cleanup and have already constructed a water treatment plant. “Under the terms of the 2002 Consent Decree negotiated with the government, BP-ARCO and Montana Resources have agreed to provide financial assurances to pay operation and maintenance expenses in perpetuity. The two companies also paid all construction costs for the facility.” They also reimbursed the federal and state agencies for past and future oversight costs.

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