Environmental Protection Agency

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company
Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

An open house on the process of cleaning up the shutdown Columbia Falls Aluminum plant happens Thursday evening.

The Columba Falls Aluminum Company, or CFAC, permanently closed this spring after the plant hadn’t fully operated since 2009. CFAC is in talks with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about how to begin cleanup.

William Marcus

It was a rare event Thursday at the Montana capitol: A public hearing brought together a panel of state lawmakers and an audience packed with coal and electric industry representatives, yet very few people had anything to say. Even the group’s chairman, Butte Democratic Senator Jim Keane, found it odd:

Kevin and Marti Murphy and their children at their home in Colstrip.
Amy Martin

Kevin Murphy has worked at the Rosebud coal mine for 15 years, running a bulldozer which works in tandem with a dragline – a machine as big as a ship with a giant boom that extends 300 feet up into the air. The dragline perches on the lip of an open pit, scraping away hundreds of feet of rocky soil to reveal the black seam of compressed prehistoric peat that humans have been burning for fuel for millennia.

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company
Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

Anyone living near the closed Columbia Falls Aluminum Company smelter has a chance Wednesday night to help the Environmental Protection Agency determine whether the plant belongs on the list of sites eligible for "Superfund" cleanup funds. The EPA is holding an open house starting at 7:00 Wednesday at the Columbia Falls City Hall.

A lot of people know about the Berkeley Pit in Butte, but not many know about another significant pollution challenge in the Mining City. It’s called the Parrot Plume, and there’s controversy over whether it needs to be cleaned up, and if so, who would pay for it.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox

Montana and twelve other states sued the federal government Monday to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from enacting a new rule extending the Clean Water Act to small streams and wetlands.

State Attorney General Tim Fox says the Obama administration went too far by asserting control over waterways that belong to the states.

Critics of the Clean Power Plan worry about its impacts on coal development and jobs.

Montana coal advocates are hailing the Supreme Court's ruling against the Obama administration's attempt to limit toxic emissions from power plants.

The justices ruled the Environmental Protection Agency failed to adequately consider costs when regulating emissions from coal and oil-fired plants.

Colstrip power plant
Flicker User ambib (CC-BY-NC)

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down a rule meant to reduce haze from coal burned in Montana.

Environmentalists were critical that rule wasn’t strong enough and hope it will be revised and strengthened. Meanwhile, the coal industry is calling the ruling a victory.

Monday at the Montana Capitol the Legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee raised questions about new federal clean water rules intended to give the Environmental Protection Agency a say in regulating many streams and ditches that are now the domain of state and local regulators. Montana lawmakers from both parties say they’re troubled by the new rules.

Poplar pipeline crack
Courtesy Bridger Pipeline

Last week we reported that state wildlife biologists have not found any evidence of damage to fish species in the Yellowstone River downstream of the oil spill in January near Glendive. But Ryan Moehring, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service says that that doesn’t mean scientists are finished looking.

A revised federal water pollution rule issued today is earning praise from Montana conservationists and condemnation from the agriculture and building sectors.

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company
Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

The Environmental Protection Agency now formally proposes adding the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company to the National Superfund List.

That makes the former smelter eligible for additional study and cleanup resources.

Cyanide, fluoride and various metals have been detected in soils, surface ponds and groundwater at the now-closed Columbia Falls smelter. That's why city manager, Susan Nicosia, supports the EPA's proposal to add the site to its priorities list.

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company
Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

Columbia Falls may know by autumn whether the now-closed aluminum smelter there will become a Superfund site.

Last Tuesday the owners of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced the smelter is permanently closing.

The next day the Environmental Protection Agency notified Governor Steve Bullock it proposes to add the plant to its priority list of industrial sites that should be cleaned.

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company
Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

To many Columbia Falls residents the full closure of the local aluminum smelter was more a matter of when than if.

That question was answered with certainty this week when Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced that it's permanently shuttering the plant.

Local real estate agent Bill Dakin say this development was a long time coming.

"This announcement, finally, an honest announcement that this plant will never refine aluminum again, is kind of a new day here."

Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced Tuesday it’s permanently closing its doors. The plant stopped production in 2009 during the height of the recession. The company was once a major employer in the Flathead Valley.

A skeleton crew has maintained Columbia Falls Aluminum Company for over 5 years as officials waited for the right time to reopen.

Word came this week that time will never come.

Company spokesman Haley Beaudry says several factors sealed the plant's fate including increased global competition and continued depressed aluminum prices.

Glendive residents can resume drinking from their taps after a federal official said there are no further signs of contamination from last Saturday’s crude oil spill into the Yellowstone River six miles upstream. The Environmental Protection Agency says test results no longer show elevated levels of cancer-causing benzene in the municipal water supply.

Bridger Pipeline LLC

It doesn’t look like Glendive’s tap water will be declared safe to drink today.

Glendive residents were told not to drink or cook with town water on Sunday, following Saturday’s oil spill into the Yellowstone River six miles upstream.

Glendive draws its drinking water from the Yellowstone, and benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, was detected in tap water on Sunday.

Update 5:45 p.m., 01/21/15: The EPA now says it's unlikely that Glendive's drinking water system will be back online tonight.

Courtesy EPA

MTPR News Director Eric Whitney spoke with Paul Peronard with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the oil pipeline spill and cleanup on the Yellowstone River near Glendive, MT. Listen to the full interview below.



On Thursday the EPA wrapped up three meetings in Libby and Troy to tell people about the agency's new asbestos risk assessment. In a determination that people have been waiting years to hear, it says that, in general, it's safe to live in Libby now.

But it also says that, for people who live in houses that haven't been through an extensive EPA cleanup, the risk of getting asbestos-related disease is significantly higher.

Southeastern Montana's Crow Nation says President Obama’s pending climate plan would wreak economic havoc on the already-impoverished reservation.

Under the administration's proposal, states must reduce their carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox is going up to bat for the Crow Nation. Fox says he's troubled by how the President is unilaterally guiding this climate proposal.

Courtesy EPA

Efforts to clean up the shuttered Columbia Falls Aluminum Company smelter have hit a snag.

State and federal officials will brief the residents in Columbia Falls Thursday.

Montana’s Department of Environmental quality wanted to speed up the process that could qualify the closed smelter for federal “Superfund” cleanup money.

Before state inspectors could assess the problem in detail, the company would have to sign a consent decree, according to DEQ attorney William Kirley.

Eric Whitney

In Libby Tuesday, about 30 people came to hear toxicologists from the Environmental Protection Agency explain a health risk assessment released Monday.

Many locals who've followed the EPA's studies closely were already confident that there's now little health risk from living in Libby. Agency toxicologist Deborah McKean confirmed that things are very different following the half-billion dollar clean up of the town started in 2002.

Courtesy EPA

Libby Mayor Doug Roll hopes the Environmental Protection Agency's new health risk study could lead to an economic shot in the arm for the community.

Hundreds of local residents died and even more were sickened by asbestos contamination from a now-closed vermiculite mine and processing plant.

Courtesy Photo

The Environmental Protection Agency released a long awaited health risk study Monday that will help guide cleanup of more of the asbestos dust found in the Libby area.

Hundreds of Libby residents died, and even more were sickened by asbestos contamination from a now-closed W.R. Grace vermiculite mine and processing plant.

EPA says years of asbestos cleanup efforts are paying off in the northwest Montana town.

Dr. Deborah McKean is EPA toxicologist.

Eric Whitney

The start of the 2015 Legislative session is still seven weeks away, but a group of Democratic lawmakers, scientists, and activists is already working to frame a possible legislative debate on climate change. 

Among those who spoke at a climate change-focused news conference on Thursday was Dave Chadwick, Executive Director of the Montana Wildlife Federation. He says even without the EPA pressuring the state to cut its carbon emissions by 20 percent in 15 years, slowing or reversing climate change would still be a priority, to save the state’s hunting and fishing industry.

Colstrip power plant
Flicker User ambib (CC-BY-NC)

As the State of Montana grapples to find ways of reducing its carbon dioxide emissions under proposed new federal rules, a collection of business people, scientists, and Democratic lawmakers is pushing the incoming legislature to put more renewable energy to work as part of the solution.  The group is nudging the Republican-controlled legislature to take small steps.

Courtesy EPA

It will take more time before we learn about potential cleanup options at a former paper mill in Frenchtown.

Today was the Environmental Protection Agency's original deadline for the site's prior and current owners to present a "good faith" cleanup offer. The plant was in operation since the 1950’s. It was most recently owned by the Smurfit-Stone Container. The plant closed in 2010 and was purchased by M2 Green Redevelopment in 2011.

A new study on the probability of more landslides at the Berkeley Pit Superfund site in Butte will be made public soon.

Last week Silver Bow County commissioners got a tour of the Butte Superfund site, led by Steve Walsh, an executive with Montana Resources. That company is actively mining for copper and molybdenum at the Continental Pit in Butte, but has operations at Berkeley Pit as well.

From a point high on the Berkeley Pit’s rim, Walsh pointed out where the company used to be more active there until last year.

Cheri Trusler

A meeting to talk about reducing Montana’s carbon dioxide emissions drew more than 150 people to a Missoula hotel last night.

Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality invited people to hear about and comment on their “white paper,” which shows five different strategies for the state to reduce Co2 emissions to meet a new federal target. That target for Montana is to reduce Co2 emissions by 21 percent by the year 2030.