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Missoula County invites EPA’s top officials to discuss Smurfit cleanup, climate goals

The shuttered Smurfit Stone mill west of Missoula. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current file)

Missoula County has invited the regional leader of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Missoula to discuss contamination left by the Smurfit Stone Container Corp. pulp and paper mill that shuttered more than a decade ago.

On a long shot, it also invited the EPA’s top administrator, Michael Regan, to Missoula to discuss the city and county’s ongoing efforts on climate change and their goals around carbon reduction.

“Missoula has a long history of working synergistically with nonprofits, state and federal agencies to pursue climate and environmental health goals and would encourage you to visit to witness the impact of this work, and to talk about the work yet to come,” the county wrote in its letter to Regan.

The city and county together adopted a climate plan in 2020 that will weigh local decisions through a lens of climate change.

In recent years, the two governments also have jointly adopted a number of plans around climate change, including goals for 100% clean electricity, zero waste, and ways to streamline government operations to make them more energy efficient.

The county wants to share such efforts face-to-face with Regan.

“Our community is susceptible to flooding, wildfire and air pollution and relies on our aquifer for water,” the county said. “By acknowledging future changes due to climate and taking steps to prepare, we are building a more resilient community.”

Water lies at the heart of both letters sent to the EPA this week, and both make mention of the shuttered Smurfit mill on the banks of the Clark Fork River. The site remains mired in the remedial investigation phase of the Superfund process and concerns over proposed on-site remedies haven’t faded.

On that front, the county also invited the EPA’s new Region 8 Administrator KC Becker to visit in person. Such a visit would also showcase the county’s partnership with the EPA in past cleanups, including the old Milltown dam.

The county said its goals include public health and safety, river and floodplain restoration and holding the polluter, M2Green, responsible for the financing and environmental liabilities at the Smurfit site “to ensure the burden is not shifted to taxpayers.”

“I hope they take us up on this,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said of the county’s invitation to the EPA.