RENO, Nev. — State environmental regulators are banking on a pledge from petroleum company BP to expedite cleanup of an abandoned Nevada mine without the teeth of the U.S. Superfund law typically used to force responsible parties to pay for remediation at sites that are so big and badly polluted.
Gov. Brian Sandoval said this week that a new agreement with Atlantic Richfield Co., a BP subsidiary that owns part of the former Anaconda Copper mine, will speed the cleanup of a toxic stew of uranium and other contaminants that has brewed for decades at the World War II-era mine in the small city of Yerington, southeast of Reno.
But critics say abandoning the Superfund path Sandoval conditionally agreed to two years ago could let the corporations off the hook for more than $100 million in cleanup costs they’re ultimately responsible for.
The critics fear doing so will further delay addressing the most pressing threat to human health and the environment — a plume of contaminated groundwater that gravitated into wells on neighboring private lands.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency first proposed priority Superfund listing 18 years ago and renewed its push for the designation in 2015 at the site covering 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) — an area the size of 3,000 football fields.
Sandoval reluctantly agreed so as to secure the necessary federal funding for cleanup the state can’t afford. But last summer the state reversed course, citing concerns about the uncertainty of EPA’s shrinking budget combined with Atlantic Richfield’s willingness to put up $40 million.
Over neighboring Native American tribes’ objections, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an agreement this week to defer any Superfund potential priority listing for at least four years.
“The deferral agreement is a perfect example of cooperative federalism in action,” Pruitt said at the mine on Monday.
“This is a landmark day for those who have worked to accomplish a path toward achieving our shared goal of cleaning up the mine site,” Sandoval said about the state’s resumption of the lead role in the cleanup efforts the federal agency had led since 2003.
Atlantic Richfield President Robert Genovese said putting the state in charge advances cleanup “more effectively without the stigma of a Superfund designation.”
“Atlantic Richfield commits itself to a remedy that saves the taxpayers approximately $40 million by not requiring federal funding to clean up environmental impacts created by other companies no longer in business,” he said.
Leaders of the Yerington Paiute and Walker River Paiute tribes said returning primary oversight to the state allows BP to “buy their choice in regulatory agency” and place the site’s “hefty financial burden on the shoulders of Nevada taxpayers.”
“The environmental issues are clearly BP’s so the idea they are ‘volunteering’ anything is more than a misstatement,” said Dietrick McGinnis, the tribes’ environmental engineering consultant. “If the site had become listed, additional regulatory tools would be available to EPA to force BP to pay for their mess.”
Atlantic Richfield purchased the site from Anaconda in 1977 and shut down all operations in 1978.
From 1952-78, the mine produced 1.7 billion pounds of copper. EPA determined over the years that uranium was produced as a byproduct of processing the copper and that the radioactive waste was initially dumped into dirt-bottomed ponds that — unlike modern lined ponds — leaked into the groundwater.
Rural neighbors won a $19.5 million settlement in 2013 from the companies they accused of covering up the contamination, but the controversy over cleanup has continued.
Nevada Davison of Environmental Protection Administrator Greg Lavoto said EPA still maintains general oversight and has authority to designate priority Superfund status if necessary.
“It really boiled down to EPA’s status with regard to funding Superfund programs,” he said in explaining the state’s desire to defer the designation. “They are stretched pretty thin.”
He added: “It’s been 13 or 14 years they’ve had the lead and I think we could gotten more done in that time,” he said. “If Atlantic Richfield decides to start giving us a hard time or isn’t complying, we’ll report that.”
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The publisher of a neo-Nazi website has until next week to notify a federal magistrate of his whereabouts as part of a lawsuit accusing him of orchestrating an anti-Semitic trolling campaign against a Montana family, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch issued an order Wednesday giving Andrew Anglin until Feb. 16 to tell the court where he is living.
Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh sued Anglin in April, saying she was threatened and harassed after he published her personal information on his website, The Daily Stormer.
Anglin’s attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying the court does not have jurisdiction over Anglin who is “not a citizen of any state.” As part of that motion, he offered to tell the court where he was.
Gersh’s lawyers counter that Anglin is playing a “childish game of hide-and-seek” to avoid the legal consequences of his actions.
Anglin’s court filings say he left his home state of Ohio in 2013 and has lived in Greece and Cambodia, but he temporarily left Cambodia and could not “for reasons of personal safety” publicly disclose his whereabouts. He said he has received credible death threats because of the website he publishes.
Gersh’s lawsuit said her family received a barrage of emails, phone calls and other messages after Anglin published their personal information that included her 12-year-old son’s Twitter handle and photo.
Gersh says she was targeted after the mother of Richard Spencer — a leading figure in the white nationalist movement — accused Gersh of harassing her into selling property in Whitefish.
Gersh’s lawsuit said she agreed to help the woman sell commercial property amid talk of a protest outside the building.
BOISE — Up to 250 male inmates from Idaho prisons and jails will be transported and temporarily held at the Karnes County Correctional Center in Karnes City, Texas, due to a lack of bed space here, according to the the Idaho Department of Correction.
Inmates will be held at the Karnes County Correctional Center until the department can reach a long-term agreement with a bed provider at an out-of-state facility. The department said Thursday it is seeking 1,000 beds for six years at the new facility.
The department expects to have a contract finalized by March 1.
“We wish we didn’t have to send inmates out of state; we know it creates challenges for the inmates, their families and our staff,” said Henry Atencio, director of the Idaho Department of Correction, in a statement. “But as Idaho grows, so does the size of our prison population, and we simply have no more room here at home.”
The inmates selected for out-of-state incarceration are medium-security inmates and were previously held at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, Idaho Maximum Security Institution, South Idaho Correctional Institution and Idaho State Correctional Center. The exact date and time of the inmates’ move will not be made public, the department said.
The Karnes County Correctional Center has 550 inmate beds. Inmates will be able to contact their families when they arrive.
Family members who have questions about any inmate incarcerated by the Idaho Department of Correction can contact the department’s Office of Constituent Services at 208-658-2134 or online at http://forms.idoc.idaho.gov
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah House of Representatives is investigating whether a lawmaker who abruptly resigned used a state-issued cellphone and hotel room paid for with taxpayer money to arrange trysts with a prostitute.
House Speaker Greg Hughes declined to comment on a Thursday report in British newspaper the Daily Mail that former Republican Rep. Jon Stanard twice hired a prostitute in 2017.
House Chief of Staff Greg Hartley says he’s checking legislative records to see if the chamber paid for hotel stays and the cellphone that the report alleges Stanard used.
Stanard, who stepped down Tuesday night, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.
His lawyer, Walter Bugden, declined to comment and didn’t respond to a message asking if he was denying the Daily Mail report.
PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona man accused of providing armor-piercing ammunition to the gunman in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history has been given more time to get rid of guns and ammunition in his possession.
As part of his release from custody, Douglas Haig was ordered by a judge to remove all firearms and ammunition from his possession by late Wednesday afternoon.
Magistrate Judge Michelle Burns moved the deadline to late Friday afternoon after Haig’s lawyer said his client needed more time to find someone with the proper credentials to take the items.
A criminal complaint against Haig says two unfired armor-piercing bullets found inside the Las Vegas hotel room where Stephen Paddock launched the Oct. 1 attack had Haig’s fingerprints.
Authorities say Paddock killed 58 people in the attack.
ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. (AP) — A 63-year-old man has been arrested in Wyoming and charged with sex trafficking.
Federal court records say David Peter Vier, a former Everett, Washington, firefighter, is charged with a single count of transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
KTWO-AM reports Vier made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne on Wednesday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin ordered Vier held without bond.
Sweetwater County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Vier on Jan. 20 after receiving a report about two girls hiding from a man at a hotel.
Police say they found two female juveniles — ages 12 and 14 — with Vier. The girls were placed in protective custody.
It wasn’t immediately known whether Vier had an attorney.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana wildlife officials are recommending against holding a grizzly bear hunt in 2018 after the animals lost their federal protections across a three-state region around Yellowstone National Park.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams said Thursday the state wants to demonstrate its commitment to the grizzly’s long-term recovery.
State wildlife commissioners will consider the matter Feb. 15.
An estimated 700 grizzly bears roam the Yellowstone region of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho — up from an estimated 136 when they were given protections in the mid-1970s.
Federal officials lifted protections last year, opening the door to hunts for the first time in decades.
Wyoming game commissioners last month said they want grizzly hunting regulations to be drafted. That means hunting could begin this fall.
BOISE (AP) — An Idaho House panel has introduced legislation that would add increased fines for trespassing on private property.
The Idaho Statesman reports that House Agricultural Affairs Chairwoman Judy Boyle on Thursday described the state’s trespass laws as a “patchwork” and in need of an update.
If approved, Boyle’s bill would set trespassing penalties anywhere from $50 to $500, with higher fees for people who intentionally trespass. Additionally, third time trespass offenses would be charged as a felony.
Boyle, a rancher, says she’s experienced trespassing on her property and added that the law should protect private property rights.
POST FALLS (AP) — A railroad crossing in a northern Idaho city has been upgraded with additional safety features nearly a year after a wreck between a car and train caused the death of a 15-year-old girl.
The Coeur d’Alene Press reports the Union Pacific crossing at Spokane Street in Post Falls has been equipped with $925,000 in safety features, including bells, flashing lights and lighted gates.
Another crossing in Post Falls on Grange Avenue received $564,000 in upgrades. Officials are coordinating efforts among railroad companies and state and federal agencies to also upgrade a crossing in Athol.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, 29 wrecks between trains and cars were recorded in Kootenai County over the last decade. The wrecks resulted in six deaths, including that of Mikelli Villasenor in Post Falls.