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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Mining the Berkeley Pit for rare earth minerals; Columbia Falls superfund cleanup

The Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
The Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.

State legislators urge Congress to help fund a program to extract rare earth minerals from the Berkley Pit
Montana Public Radio | By John Hooks

Montana legislators are urging Congress to help fund a program to extract rare earth minerals from the contaminated waters of Butte’s Berkeley Pit.

The Environmental Quality Council, made up of legislators and members of the public, voted unanimously Wednesday to send a letter to congress urging federal lawmakers to allocate defense spending toward the pit project.

Montana Resources, the mining company that oversees the pit, told the council last month it had successfully pilot tested a method for extracting rare earths from the pit. The company said funding from the government would be necessary to make the project economically viable in the near future.

Rare earths are minerals used in advanced technologies like electric car batteries, as well as many modern weapons systems. The majority of the global supply of those minerals is produced and processed in China, which the U.S. Department of Defense claims is a national security risk.

In their letter, councilmembers said constructing the processing facility at the pit would create jobs and bolster the domestic supply chain.

Environmental Quality Council pens a letter asking the EPA to hold off on approving clean-up plan for Columbia Falls superfund site
Montana Public Radio | By Aaron Bolton

The Environmental Quality Council (EQC) is also penning a letter asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold off on approving a clean-up plan for a superfund site in Columbia Falls.

The EPA wants to approve a plan that would contain toxic waste at a former aluminum smelter underground. A local community group has called on the agency to remove the waste. The EPA has said that would expose more communities and be costly.

The EQC is writing a letter to the EPA supporting the group’s calls for a pause in the process. The council is also backing the group’s efforts to obtain a grant. That funding would pay for a contractor to review the EPA’s findings and support for containing waste underground.

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at
Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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