Montana Public Radio

Richest Hill

If you don’t know Butte Montana, you might have heard it’s one of the biggest toxic messes in the country. But now the “mining city” is on the verge of sealing a deal that could clean it up once and for all.

So how did we get here? What comes after Superfund? And who gets to decide?

Find out on Richest Hill, available wherever you get your podcasts.

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 of 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.

Recently, we let the cat out of the bag and told you that Butte’s Superfund parties reached a very big deal; one that will clean up the Mining City forever. That sounds like good news, and I hope it is. But as someone who lives right in the heart of a Superfund megasite, lately I’ve been experiencing some cognitive dissonance.

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.

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 a stretch of the long-dead Silver Bow 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.

Uptown Butte, MT.
Mike Albans / Montana Public Radio

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.

After more than 30 years in limbo without a final cleanup agreement, the ink is drying on Butte’s big Superfund deal as we speak. What it means and why it matters has everything to do with what played out when Superfund came to Montana’s Mining City. So today we’re asking: back in those early days of Superfund, who were the players, and what was the game?

This is episode 06: Our Most Cherished Beliefs.

From Evel Knievel to a 'Great Flood' and on to the dawning of the Superfund era, Episode 5 looks at the origins of the government program designed to force whoever made the mess to clean it up.

I live a mile away from the Berkeley Pit, the mile by mile and a half wide former open-pit mine, which is now filled with a 50 billion gallon toxic lake. Every time I visit, I leave hyper aware of the contradictions and compromises that go hand in glove with industrialization. I find myself wondering: who thought chiseling a colossal hole in the Earth was a good idea, and why? So today, let’s take a dive, figuratively, into open pit mining and some controversial decisions made late last century that changed Butte’s land, people, and environmental legacy forever. This is Episode 4: We Gave it to the Pit.

BT Livermore,"maker of things and provder of services," designed the Richest Hill logo, and does lots of other creative work in the Mining City.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

We're hard at work on episode 4 of Richest Hill, and still covering lots of Superfund news in Butte right now. In the mean time, meet one of the artists who's contributed to this project behind the scenes.

BT Livermore,"maker of things and provider of services," designed the Richest Hill logo, and does lots of other creative work in the Mining City. He explains the thinking behind the logo, and why he feels a sense of hope in Butte.

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