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Book Claims Copper Producers Deceiving State on Pollution

“. . . Any assistance you can offer in having EPA acknowledge that it got overzealously involved in Montana affairs will be greatly appreciated.” — Ultimately successful request to a White House aide by Anaconda Co. Chief John Place.  From “Corporate Country,” 1973.

by Ronald J. Schleyer, Missoulian State Bureau, December 7, 1973

HELENA — Montana citizens and their government are portrayed as victimized pawns in a deadly copper industry game to continue pollution as usual in a new book by a Georgetown University law center professor.

In “Corporate Country,” William H. Rodgers Jr claims in general that copper producers continue a deceitful effort began more than 100 years ago to protect a polluting technology through lies and economic blackmail to thwart efforts at pollution control.

Specifically Rodgers claims that the smelter industry leaders, partly to benefit East Helena and Anaconda smelters, wielded raw political muscle through the American Mining Congress to turn back anti-pollution efforts and to discredit a witness at a Montana public hearing.

Further, the book warns of an unseen battle, shielded from view but having direct effect on the health of Montana citizens, between the copper kings and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The charges may have special interest for Montanans. The State Department of Health this week is writing new regulations to control emissions from Anaconda’s Columbia Falls and Anaconda plants and ASARCO’S East Helena lead factory.

Rodgers brings his charges against the big four copper producers – Anaconda, ASARCO, Phelps Dodge and Kennecott — together in a chapter entitled smelting of the population.

“The copper man’s equipment, his tactics and testimony have changed very little in the last 100 years,” he says at the outset.

Detailing giveaway provisions of the general Law Of 1872 under which mining firms operate for huge profit and pay little tax, Rodgers describes what he calls familiar tactics used to control government research and to protect polluting technologies from public interference.

Sulfur dioxide emission regulations, precisely those due for imminent release by the Department of Health, are a key interest of Anaconda and ASARCO, according to Rodgers, because lenient rules constitute a massive public subsidy for private benefit.

Part of Rodgers’ story of political influence is revealed in the opening quotation of this article. Place is alleged to have asked Nixon aides Peter Flanagan and John Whitaker to discredit an EPA witness.

The witness George W. Walsh, told the Board of Health on Dec. 15, 1971, that EPA’s air-quality standards “tend to represent minimum goals to be achieved.”

Walsh, according to Rodgers, also said that proposed 90 percent now the law in Montana, but not yet enforced for Anaconda and Easter Helena “are required to minimize administrative and regulatory problems and to insure . . . air quality.”

Rodgers alleges that because of Place’s influence, the EPA subsequently repudiated Walsh’s testimony, on which Montana in part relied to guide the drafting of its laws on pollution.

Legal flotsam from the skirmish between Place and the EPA may yet have lasting effect on Montana. Confusion among Montana officials still reigns over an ambiguous court of appeals decision.

Anaconda had attacked EPA for imposing emission limitations on its smelter, and was supported by one court and apparently reversed by another. EPA has yet to issue enforceable regulations limiting such emissions.

Walsh, and a series of air pollution control officials since 1969, based his opinions on a document called the McKee report, which “discloses, for example, that there is ample precedent for controlling sulfur dioxide emissions,” Rodgers said.

“The principal barrier for the country’s 16 copper smelters including the one in Anaconda is economic rather than chemical or technical,” Rodgers said regarding the controls.

According to the McKee report, smelters in the east recover up to 85 per cent of the sulfur emissions while those in the West recover an average of only about 23 per cent. Anaconda’s smelter performs at an official 32 per cent. ASARCO in East Helena has zero control.

In 1970 EPA’s parent, the National Air Pollution Control Administration, reported to Congress that “the entire copper smelting industry (16 smelters in all) could achieve 98 per cent control with a modest capital investment of between $33.8 and $81 million,” Rodgers said.

According to Walsh, the EPA witness, this seemingly huge amount works out to about three cents on a pound of copper, which sells for 60 cents.

Rodgers book describes a series of industry actions to undermine such claims and to lay groundwork for a pollution loophole called the Supplementary Control System (SCS).

When used, SCS basically controls emissions by limiting industrial production during inversions, common in mountainous areas, which tend to trap pollutants and force concentrations above certain level limits.

EPA regulations released this fall but not yet enacted allow for SCS only after smelters use the best available technology to control emissions.

But Rodgers claims this is a new EPA view brought on by industry pressure, one which fails to protect the environment as required by the Clean Air Act.

ASARCO, in a request now before the State Department of Health, wants to use SCS in combination with construction of an 800-foot smokestack to replace an aging 400-foot one and claims economic inability to control the emissions themselves without shutting down.

ASARCO, in fact, claims that no “adequately demonstrated” economical way is available for it to control the sulfur dioxide emits in East Helena.

The Department of Health is squarely in the middle and must decide the issue on EPA statements and some of Montana’s own policies which declare SCS unworkable and require all firms to use the best available technology to meet emission regulations.

Rodgers claims that EPA vacillation was responsible in part for former governor Forrest Anderson’s 1971 rejection of emission limitations in the state’s air quality implementation plan, and further weakens all states’ ability to enforce emission controls.

“The studies, hearings, and consultations proferred the people can become a well-staged charade,” Rodgers said, “vulnerable to the snap of the fingers of Peter Flanagan.”

Beyond the questions of industrial conspiracy to influence Montana law, Rodgers brings up a practical reality in the need to control sulfur dioxide by quoting in EPA summary of its poisonous effects:

“Sulfur oxides irritate the respiratory system particularly in the young, the old, and those already crippled with respiratory afflictions. They attack a wide variety of materials. Metals corrode, paints disintegrate, fibers weaken and fade, building materials discolor and deteriorate. Agricultural production drops as plant growth and yields are suppressed.”

And, according to the National Council on Environmental Quality, “national health costs resulting from sulfur oxide emissions are conservatively estimated at over $3.3 billion annually.

The effects of sulfur oxides on material property and vegetation cost the nation an estimated additional $5 billion annually. The total damages of $8.3 billion amount to about 20 cents for each pound of sulfur emitted.”

Counting just the Anaconda smelter’s current emissions of 800 tons a day and ASARCO’s 300 tons in East Helena, the damage to Montana and her people comes to $440,000 a day, or about $160 million a year.

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