The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency visited the Superfund sites in Butte and Anaconda Friday. The last time the head of the agency did so was 28 years ago.
Andrew Wheeler was named acting administrator of the EPA in July, following the departure of Scott Pruitt amid ethics scandals.
People in Butte and Anaconda were happy when Pruitt announced that the Trump administration was prioritizing Superfund cleanups, and that their communities were at the top of the priority list. Today, Acting Administrator Wheeler said that hasn't changed.
"Superfund is a priority for the administration, for President Trump, and it's a priority for myself as well."
Wheeler came at the invitation of Senator Steve Daines, and held meetings with people involved in Superfund issues in Butte and Anaconda, including the Atlantic Richfield Company, county commissioners and community activists.
Fritz Dailey has been a prominent activist for cleaning up Butte decades. He thanked Wheeler for visiting Butte, and says cleanup progress has been made. But he remains critical of the conceptual cleanup agreement the Trump EPA has negotiated, saying it doesn't go far enough.
"They know what needs to be done to do it right, and they know what needs to be done under Superfund law, state law and the Montana Constitution. They know. But for whatever reason they don't want to do it," Dailey says.
At a meeting in Butte with Wheeler, other community members disagreed with Dailey.
Wheeler says the new preliminary cleanup plans for both Butte and Anaconda are still works in progress, and that community input can and will still influence the final agreements. He says the EPA plans to have Butte and Anaconda cleaned up and off the Superfund list by 2024 and 2025 respectively.
We'll have more on EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler's visit to Montana on Monday.