HELENA Gov. Judy Martz is not convinced that Superfund status is the best way to handle Libbys environmental problems.
While the governor has not yet made a decision on the issue, she said in a recent interview that she sees drawbacks to using the Superfund program in Libby and some advantages to having W.R. Grace and Co. clean up asbestos hazards in and around the community.
Chief among those advantages, she said, is that Grace could get things done more quickly than could the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.
When government does things, they move at glacial speed, Martz said. When you mandate private industry to do it, theyll get it done.
Governor Martz unsure of need for Superfund status
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Martzs decision is crucial to an upcoming proposal from the EPA to list Libby and surrounding mine sites on the Superfund national priorities list. The EPAs 5-year-old policy of gathering local approval before listing a Superfund site means Montanas Republican governor has near-veto power over such a designation. The EPA has only once gone over a governors head (in Wisconsin) to place a site on the Superfund list.
The governor said she is gathering all the information she can about Libbys situation and the options for making it a safe and healthy community. On Aug. 8, Martz will spend the day in Libby talking with residents and officials about the asbestos situation. It will be her first trip to Libby since taking office.
Well listen to the citizens of Libby and engage those closest to the issue, but well also rely on information from the EPA and W.R. Grace, Martz said.
Recently, Martz requested an extensive list of information from the EPA about what is going on in Libby. She asked for specifics on what happens to property values under a Superfund designation and the possibility of the state being required to foot 10 percent of the bill for cleanup.
The governor also requested an in-depth briefing on the issue, but made it clear she doesnt want to hear from the EPA officials who have been working in Libby. Rather, Martz said, she wants the briefing to come from an EPA official outside of Libby, for a more objective viewpoint. The EPA and W.R. Grace and Co. have butted heads over Libby since federal regulators began working there nearly two years ago.
All Im trying to do is talk to both sides and find solutions, Martz said.
She said she hasnt yet received the information she needs from the EPA, nor has she seen a list of priorities from Libby residents that she asked for several months ago.
Members of the EPAs Community Advisory Group in Libby have said they sent the governor such a list in April, after first giving it to Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
A longtime Butte resident, Martz said she knows well the trials and tribulations of living in a Superfund site. She said that while the program can guarantee a future funding source for cleanup work, its also a disadvantage to businesses and the community in the long run.
Superfund sites are known for lengthy delays in progress and can take years to be completed, if there ever is an end, the governor said.
While she maintained that her mind is in no way made up on the Libby-Superfund issue, Martz said a cleanup program run by the company holds a distinct edge over a program run by the federal and state governments.
In the end, Martz said, There are no guarantees, whether you have an EPA Superfund or you have W.R. Grace do it.
She said the company ought to be allowed to do some trial projects that would determine whether it can clean up asbestos waste to the satisfaction of federal and state health officials.
They appear to want to do it, she said. I say give them a chance; lets test them. See if they can do it to the satisfaction of the EPA.
Maybe we have a chance to do something big see if they can do it.
Martz has come under intense criticism from Libby residents in recent weeks for failing to travel there to meet with asbestos victims and other locals.
She did meet with asbestos victims this winter, when Libby residents traveled to Helena. At that meeting, Martz pledged to do whatever she could to help.
In late May, the governor met with top officials from W.R. Grace and Co., stirring more outrage from Libby residents who say the governor is listening only to the company that injured their town.
Martz defended her meeting with Graces top brass, saying she did so on behalf of Libby. The governor notes that in a meeting earlier this year with asbestos victims at her office in Helena, she vowed to extract promises from Grace of a continued financial commitment to Libby. That s what her meeting with the company was all about, Martz said.
The governor says she will make her decision about Libby based largely on what the people of the community want. However, she noted, its tough to tell what the people want, since the community is so deeply divided. Martz said she would support a public vote to better gauge the majoritys opinion.
As part of trying to heal those divisions in the community, Martz said she wants to offer Libby the services of the Montana Consensus Council. The council, an agency inside the governors office, works on dispute resolution in controversial issues through hearings and in-depth studies. The agency was created in 1992 to work on natural resources issues and has expanded over the years to touch on such subjects as campaign finance reform.
If the community is at all interested, Id like to get some help from the Consensus Council. Theyve done some terrific work, Martz said.
The governor said she will go to Libby with an open mind, and she hopes the community gives her the same courtesy. She said she was somewhat offended by some comments that have come from Libby, most notably a letter from a resident who sent her a road map showing the route from Helena to Libby.
I have always said if someone will work with me, Ill work with them, Martz said. But if you get mean and nasty, Ill go find the next guy.
I have a heart, she added. I truly am not what I am sometimes depicted to be.