Drinking bottled water has become a way of life for members of Nevada’s Yerington Paiute Tribe, according to an extensive story published this month in Audobon Magazine.
And the story chronicles how secretive deals between a corporation and state and federal officials may thwart environmental clean-up of the tribe’s water resources for years or even decades.
For decades, toxins from the Anaconda Copper Mine have seeped into the nearby land, polluting the groundwater and forcing the responsible parties – BP America and Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) to take responsibility for the clean up. Arco owned the site in 1980, when the Superfund was created. BP subsequently purchased ARCO.
The site’s designation for the Superfund was slated at the end of the Obama administration but never completed by the EPA under President Donald Trump.
Instead, the Trump administration, eager to clear Superfund sites and other toxic lands from its “to do” list, has transferred oversight of the clean up to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.
“Emails show that, at BP’s request, EPA handed control of the Anaconda Copper Mine to Nevada, sidelining tribes and residents who fear they’ll never have clean water,” Audubon reports.
Last February, Sandoval and then-EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt signed off on the deal.
Residents fear the loss of federal oversight will let BP and ARCO off the hook and jeopardize the restoration of the aquifer.
The Anaconda Copper Mine was briefly “the most productive in the state,” according to the story. Mining ended there decades ago but the scars remain.
“Miners poured sulfuric acid over crushed bedrock and scrap iron to extract copper, exposing other compounds, including uranium, in the process. Between 1953 and 1978, it produced some 1.75 billion pounds of copper,” Audobon writes.
The story says the Anaconda deal was a win for federal and state negotiators and for state and local officials “who avoided the stigma of a Superfund listing, which they feared would hurt the local economy.”
“BP retained some say in how the cleanup will proceed and how company funds will be spent. And ARCO, through legislation and other moves that coincided with the deferral, is being let off the hook for $13 million owed to the EPA for past remediation and could gain ownership of thousands of acres of federal land around the site—further reducing federal involvement at the mine,” Audobon reports.
Residents may have never known of groundwater contamination if not for “the tenacity of unidentified officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees federal land that comprises almost half of the near-3,500-acre site,” the story says.
After several years of monitoring the site, in 2009 the EPA tested the water in wells within and adjacent to the Anaconda mine.
“Every time EPA did more monitoring they found more contamination.,” said Peggy Pauly, who became an activist upon learning the groundwater in her well was contaminated. “NDEP dropped the ball.”
Lawsuits and settlements ensued. Some remain pending.
ARCO has so far spent $100 million on the clean up. Greg Lovato of NDEP says it will take another $100 million to finish the job.