Now that Milltown Dam is coming down, there’s not much left to do except, well, clean up millions of cubic yards of contaminated sediments, for which Arco will be picking up the tab. As for Montana’s other dozen-plus Superfund sites, their clean-ups won’t be so simple.
“Fortunately, in the case of Milltown, there is a solvent company that has responsibility,” says Clark Fork Coalition Conservation Director and staff attorney Matt Clifford. “In a lot of cases, there are companies that have gone bankrupt and long since gone away, so there are other sites in Montana we’re worried about.”
What’s adding to Clifford’s worries is that the polluter-financed trust fund—which for years has helped offset the cost of Superfund clean-up projects—is predicted to go belly up by the end of the month, placing added strain on resources to clean up hundreds of Superfund sites across the country, according to a recent General Accounting Office study. As the trust fund dwindled from $2 billion less than a decade ago to a few hundred million dollars this year, the EPA has added more and more Superfund sites to its list. In the past, a tax on the chemical and oil industries funded the trust, but those taxes expired in 1995, and neither President Clinton nor Bush asked Congress to reauthorize them. The fund’s surplus has been dwindling since, and now it’s almost gone.
“There are at least three sites [in Montana] where there aren’t any responsible parties paying for clean-up,” says Montana office EPA Director John Wardell. “We have some funding for them, but maybe not as much as we’d like.”
The big-ticket spot with no responsible party is Libby. Wardell says it’s too soon to tell how the drying up of funds will affect asbestos clean-up in Libby, but admits it can only make efforts more challenging.
“These sites with no responsible parties are the ones competing for money, and are often the more complex sites, ones that can be more difficult to clean up,” he says.