EPA And Atlantic Richfield Move To Loosen Gag Order On Butte's Superfund Cleanup Agreement

May 18, 2018

Residents of Butte are one big step closer to learning details about the Superfund clean-up planned for the Butte Hill.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a joint motion on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and Atlantic Richfield to loosen the gag-order on the so-called “conceptual agreement” for the consent decree on this portion of Butte’s Superfund cleanup.

The consent decree is the legally binding document that outlines what the rest of the clean-up will entail, how it will get done, and which parties will pay for it.

Nikia Greene, the EPA project manager in Butte, says they took this action in response to community concerns about what’s been going on behind closed doors.

“All parties agreed we need to get this information out to the community so they can see what we’ve been talking about and provide their input and feedback to what we’ve been looking at," said Greene.

These Superfund clean-up negotiations have been confidential for more than a decade under a pre-existing court order.

This request to modify the gag order means EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento is following through on a commitment he made to the public in January when he announced that the responsible parties had reached the conceptual agreement and they wanted to increase transparency.

David Hutchins is a board member with the Citizens Technical Environmental Committee in Butte.

“I wish we could have been involved all the way along the way, as citizens that are impacted, as well as taxpayers that are technically responsible parties, as Butte-Silver Bow is," Hutchins said. "So I wish we could have been privy to everything all along the way, but I’m excited to see what they've come up with.”

If and when the gag order is lifted, it’s still unclear which technical and financial details will be disclosed. But Greene says the EPA is preparing to roll out a multi-step outreach process, and agency staff will be on the ground in Butte as soon as a decision comes down.

“[We'll be] working to put together public meetings, workshops, have this collaborative discussion about what we’ve been evaluating, and give the public some time for that to sink in. And then have more engagement with the public to address their comments and answer questions," said Greene.

There is no timeframe for when U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon will rule on the motion.