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The Wages of Mining

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In 1985, I took the first trip of my life. We drove from Oregon to Minnesota for a family reunion. For me, at that age, this was exciting. As we drove east on I-90, we stopped in Butte, Montana. There, I saw the Berkeley Pit, the gigantic open pit copper mine now filling with incredibly toxic water. To say the least, it blew my mind. I have since visited the Pit one other time. This was in, I think, 2002. At this point, you could press a button and there was a very low-grade recording of a woman talking about how the water in the pit wasn’t that toxic anymore. She said something like “The geese landed in the water and they did not die. This was a big step.” Well, OK then! But this optimism may be just a little bit unwarranted.

Several thousand migrating snow geese perished in the toxic Berkeley Pit water where they landed last week in Butte, mine officials told the Montana Standard today.

Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield Company officials say they are not yet ready to release a hard number because federal and state agencies have to verify numbers collected. But MR manager of environmental affairs Mark Thompson said the mining company expects the final number to be several times greater than the 1995 snow goose die-off incident.

A $100,000 restitution proposal for the deaths of 342 snow geese in 1995 was challenged by Montana Resources, a mining company that accepted blame for the deaths and planned to pay a $10,000 fine.

The mine estimates that as many as 10,000 snow geese landed on the pit’s contaminated water last week on the night of Nov. 28. Thompson said previously that the pit’s 700-acre lake was “white with birds.”

There’s not any real great solution here either. It takes a lot of work just to keep this toxicity out of the general water supply that eventually flows into the Clark Fork River and eventually into the Columbia River. And how comfortable are you with the EPA in a Trump administration managing this at all responsibly?

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