Which Companies Have Caused the Most Environmental Damage in Montana?

Which Companies Have Caused the Most Environmental Damage in Montana?

Here in Big Sky Country, we love our stunning vistas and wide open spaces, and those of us who have lived here for a while know all too well that some companies have been successful in taking advantage of our beautiful environment.

Over the years, our state has seen corporations move into the land, causing air pollution, contaminating the groundwater, and leaving behind more toxic damage to the environment and Montana residents.

In this blog, we’ll discuss which companies have caused the most environmental damage in Montana and how experienced Bozeman environmental attorneys can assist with holding these companies responsible.

A History of Pollution in Our State

Until more recent statutes passed enforcing strict environmental protection laws, many companies tapped into the vast natural resources in our state. The Montana Constitution and the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) aim to defend the environment of our state. However, mostly abandoned mines still litter the countryside, and decades of pollution are still being cleaned up and monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC).

Some of the more infamous environmental concerns and the companies responsible for causing pollution and harm to our beautiful state and its people include:

Deadly Asbestos in Libby

Residents of Libby, a town of only 3,000 people in northwestern Montana, have suffered for decades from asbestos-tainted vermiculite, according to The Associated Press. The mine that the deadly material came from has been closed since 1990. However, when it was open, it produced up to 80% of global vermiculite supplies, which was transported by train across Montana and the rest of the United States.

Even in the 25 years since the mine’s closing, hundreds of Montanans have died, and thousands more have contracted asbestos-related diseases, including deadly cases of mesothelioma. The Texas-based company responsible, BNSF Railway, is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and has long denied responsibility for the harm caused to area residents.

The owner of the mine, W.R. Grace, paid out $270 million to government agencies for environmental damages and clean-up work and, when they filed for bankruptcy in 2001. They paid another $1.8 million into an asbestos trust fund to settle future cases.

In the meantime, multiple lawsuits have been filed against BNSF, with some being settled for undisclosed amounts in past years. A trial over the death of a Libby resident was scheduled for federal court in Missoula this month (May 2024).

Carbon Pollution Across the State

Perhaps the most well-known causes of damaging our air quality in Montana are the large power plants that emit carbon pollution. A 2013 report from the Environment Montana Research and Policy Center suggested at the time of the publication that power plants were the largest source of global warming pollution in the United States and were responsible for 41% of the nation’s production of carbon dioxide.

In Montana, power plants are our state’s largest source of carbon pollution, causing 57% of statewide emissions. The top five most polluting power plants and the companies that operate them are:

  • Colstrip, operated by PPL Montana
  • E. Corette, operated by PPL Montana
  • Hardin Generating Station, operated by Rocky Mountain Power
  • Yellowstone Energy Limited Partnership, operated by Yellowstone Energy LP
  • Lewis & Clark Station, operated by Montana-Dakota Utilities Co.

According to the MEIC, although the Colstrip power plant is one of the largest sources of harmful air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates, there are no national limits on the amount of climate-changing pollution that these power plants are allowed to emit. The toxins these plants release continue to cause and aggravate respiratory diseases, damage lung tissue, lead to premature death and harm vegetation, crops, and water quality across the state.

Continued Clean-up Efforts in Anaconda

Devastating environmental issues have persisted across Big Sky Country for decades, however, the continued efforts of Montanans with help from agencies such as the EPA and MEIC have made great strides in cleaning up our beautiful land.

Anaconda was once where a copper smelter owned by Atlantic Richfield Company, a subsidiary of British Petroleum, was located. It operated from 1884 until its closure in 1980 and was one of the leading producers of copper in the nation. But its operation leaked toxic chemicals into the groundwater, contaminating vast amounts of land.

The EPA has spear-headed clean-up efforts at the Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site since 1983 and listed the 300-square-mile area on the National Priorities List (NPL). For over three decades, agencies and locals have worked diligently to remove toxic waste, and according to a February 2023 news release from the EPA, it is estimated that the clean-up of the site is over 90% complete.

These are just a few of the most harmful environmental issues our state has and currently faces, and even with laws in place and agencies stepping in to help, the companies responsible for the damage to the land have yet to be held fully responsible.

If your health has been affected by any of the above-referenced environmental contamination areas, consider contacting Western Justice Associates, PLLC. Our attorneys have expertise in dealing with environmental litigation and our first conversation is always free.