Tribal leaders call for a reversal of Anaconda Mine superfund decision

January 21, 2019

Leaders of a Yerington-area American Indian tribe have asked newly elected Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford to undo an agreement that put the state in control over cleanup of the Anaconda Copper Mine and return the responsibility to the federal government.

The tribe argues that the state lacks the political and financial clout to hold international energy conglomerate BP responsible for the polluted Anaconda Mine site. The state was given oversight of the project when former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to put the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection in control of the cleanup, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

Attorney Norberto Cisneros laid out the tribe's concerns in a letter to newly elected Attorney General Aaron Ford.

“This is a matter of grave concern because the Anaconda Copper Mine has for many years been releasing contaminants - including toxic arsenic, uranium and other heavy metals – into the land, air, and groundwater of the Mason Valley,” Cisneros wrote. “It is an issue that affects the entire Mason Valley and far beyond; both in terms of environmental risk, and ultimately tax liability, for all Nevadans.”

At issue is the deferral agreement that Sandoval and Pruitt signed on Feb. 5, 2018 that deferred listing the former Anaconda Mine as a federal Superfund site and instead put the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection in charge of regulating cleanup.

Decades of operations polluted water in and around the now-defunct mining operation. BP, through a subsidiary that operated the mine when most of the pollution occurred, is responsible for the cleanup bill.

Non-Indian residents near the mine have already received a $19.5 million settlement from BP through Atlantic Richfield, and the company is paying to supply bottled water to residents on the tribe’s reservation, although the tribe wasn’t part of the cash settlement.

The site had been designated to become a federal Superfund site, which would have triggered strict oversight measures aimed at ensuring BP completed and paid for the cleanup.

However, non-Indian locals in Mason Valley resisted the designation because they feared the label would harm the reputation of the local agriculture industry.

In 2016, Sandoval agreed to accept a Superfund listing but changed course two years later after the executive branch of the federal government shifted from the administration of Democrat Barack Obama to Republican Donald Trump.

BP wants to remain under state oversight and, in a statement from subsidiary Atlantic Richfield, said the company believes Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak will want to stick with the deal Sandoval made, even though the tribe disagrees and says Sandoval and Pruitt didn't adequately weigh the tribe's concerns.

"The deferral agreement ensures the remedy will protect human health and the environment consistent with EPA and NDEP regulations. However, under NDEP direction, the implementation of a remedy can proceed more expeditiously," Atlantic Richfield said in a written statement. 

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