By: Melissa Nootz, Michelle McKnight, Amanda Dour, and Abbie Phillip
Date: December 18, 2020
About: United States v. Atlantic Richfield Company, Civil Action No. CV89-039-BU-SEH
To: Gregory Sopkin, Regional Administrator US EPA, Region 8, 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80202-1129
CC: Dana Barnicoat, Community Involvement Coordinator, USEPA; Andy Lensink, Senior Assistant Regional Counsel, USEPA Region 8; Andrew Wheeler, Administrator, USEPA; US Senator Jon Tester; US Senator Steve Daines; US Representative Greg Gianforte
Dear Regional Administrator Sopkin,
While we appreciate the two week extension through December 18, 2020, for Moms Clean Air Force members in Anaconda, there are several barriers preventing our full participation in this process. We submitted a series of questions to the EPA on December 7th, not all of which have been answered. Accept this letter as our submission for the extended comment period. We have considered and discussed the additional information provided to us, and we find that our concerns about the EPA moving forward without sufficient comments from Anaconda community members have not been allayed. Therefore, we are opposed to this partial consent decree moving forward.
Extending the comment period for only our organization conflicts with our goal to have equitable community engagement with environmental justice communities like ours in Anaconda Deer Lodge County.
The EPA and its partnering organizations continue to fail in providing adequate outreach and education to the community. Moms Clean Air Force has a strong track record working to stay engaged with the EPA at all levels of government, but it is clear there are inadequate resources for the EPA to reciprocate our engagement with both the community and our organization in Anaconda. We feel one Community Involvement Coordinator is inadequate to meet the needs of two unique communities, Butte and Anaconda, situated in two of the largest Superfund sites in the country.
In order to prepare our comments by the extension deadline, we reached out to the EPA with further questions. We needed information about the many months during which the EPA was out of contact with our members regarding Anaconda. We are still awaiting answers to all these questions sent to the Community Involvement Coordinator on December 7, 2020:
“Please describe the administrative timeline of the Consent Decree (CD) since September 2019, when EPA hosted public meetings on amending the Anaconda Regional Water, Waste, and Soils Operable Unit (ARWW&S) Record of Decision (ROD) with respect to the surface water cleanup standards. Please include relevant community, administrative, and site clean-up activities. The description of community activities should address the schedule of public notices, meetings, and public comment periods, specifically the content of the notices, dates of publishing, communication modes (e.g. radio, Leader print news ad), and community partners on communication/outreach (e.g. local ADLC government, Arrowhead, etc.).
What is the relevant EPA policy on public involvement in the CD process?
Were any public comments submitted during the original comment period, either directly from Anaconda citizens or a representative of Anaconda citizens?
What is the purpose of the partial consent decree (CD)?
What is the process of finalizing the CD?
Why is the CD being executed in parts?
How is the ADLC/ARCO Institutional Controls Agreement (IC) related to the CD process?
Who are the stakeholders in the CD process?
Who do these stakeholders and stakeholder groups represent?
What are EPA's accountability and performance metrics of the Anaconda Arrowhead Foundation?
What is the remaining EPA timeline for the Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site?
What EPA community involvement activities are scheduled for 2020 and 2021?”
We understand the scope of the work is large, and therefore our questions will take time to answer. And this is precisely why we previously requested, in an October 2018 meeting with former Region 8 Administrator Benevento, that the EPA place a permanent staff position in an Anaconda office to keep the community informed consistently.
Given the weak public outreach and engagement throughout this process of negotiation, we have no confidence that the accountability in 5 year reviews for perpetuity will be adequate to meet the health and safety needs of the community.
There is no baseline information nor longitudinal studies of the health of the community and environment. Without this baseline, and no plan to monitor community health over time (beyond offering lead testing at the health department), the EPA and our community will have no accurate measurements and no clear idea of how far we’ve come during the 5 year reviews. We request that longitudinal health studies monitor the wellbeing of residents of Anaconda Deer Lodge County over the coming years.
It’s difficult for the average resident to know, in 3,300 pages of documents outlining this part of the consent decree, if the issue that someone is particularly interested in is even addressed. And in technical documents like these, without adequate support from the EPA or an engaged community organization, it’s next to impossible to find the topics that a community member really cares about - like, where we are in the timeline process or the plans for residential and community soils.
We have found that the EPA website “Stay Updated Get Involved” offers “Community Resources,” which lead interested community members looking for more information to a dead EPA link. Alternatively, the Arrowhead Foundation website should offer current information for people working to participate and understand the process, and it hasn’t been updated in nearly a year. These are the most obvious ways for community members to engage with the Superfund clean up process, but they don’t work or provide timely information.
The EPA keeps asking Moms Clean Air Force how to keep Anacondans engaged but hasn’t heeded our advice. We want transparency and answers to our questions. The average person in Anaconda is not able to get the information needed to make meaningful comments on the partial consent decree. We’ve repeatedly expressed that there is little public discussion or public understanding of the meaning of this partial consent decree. And we’ve repeatedly expressed that we don’t have the necessary resources to understand how this document addresses issues we really care about.
For all these reasons, plus the fact that we continue to be bearing the impacts of living through a worldwide pandemic (as stated in our previous letter), we oppose the EPA and DOJ accepting and moving this partial consent decree forward at this time.
Moms Clean Air Force Montana