In Donald Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) I find a certain irony. Pruitt is no fan of regulation. He is expected to widely strip or encumber EPA regulations, especially those decried as “overreach” by regulated parties. The irony is in the fact that came this same week—only sixty miles south of me—the death of thousands of snow geese after they landed on super-toxic water in Berkeley Pit. The toxic water is the result of early mining practices conducted without regard to the environment and without regulatory oversight.
First, let’s talk about the geese. Each year, hundreds of thousands of snow geese fly through Montana on their migratory path between breeding grounds in the Arctic and wintering habitat far to the south. Normally, the geese land on safe waters such as those of Freeze-Out Lake north of where I live. This year, the geese left the Arctic late and were caught in a winter storm upon arriving in Montana. They bypassed Freeze-Out because the waters were mostly frozen and landed, instead, at Berkeley Pit—once an open pit copper mine, now a deep toxic lake. Some of the geese stayed on the water, ignoring noise-making devices intended to dissuade waterfowl from landing and remaining in the pit. The water in the pit is highly acidic and suffused with heavy metals. Drinking the water is suicide.
Many geese drank the water.
By mid-week this week, thousands of dead geese were reportedly littering the shores of the pit. Hundreds of geese died in a similar incident back in the 1990s.
Now we can talk about environmentalism. I am here in Montana only because mining brought my predecessors here. I still have family in the mining industry and want them to keep their jobs. I have friends who are loggers. I have personally disrupted a bit of earth in making my way to this date. I fully grasp the need to embrace the extraction industries of mining and oil. Maybe there is a certain overreach in some environmental standards. But I worry a little that Scott Pruitt might use a sledgehammer in reshaping EPA regulations where a chisel is more appropriate.
Only time will tell and I would happily be wrong.
Meanwhile, I am deeply saddened by the loss of all those snow geese. How many times do we need to kill the proverbial canary in the coal mine? I would prefer we don’t keep repeating this mistake.