Tribes to appeal court-backed FMC cleanup deal

By Tim Jackson
Journal Staff Writer

FORT HALL - Shoshone-Bannock tribal leaders say a new pollution cleanup agreement between FMC Corp. and federal regulators isn't tough enough to protect people or the environment.
The Fort Hall Business Council announced Thursday it plans to appeal the October 1998 consent decree made legally enforceable Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill's order.
"It is the position of the tribes that the Shoshone-Bannock people and the surrounding communities should not have to suffer the environmental degradation and detrimental human health impacts, while the FMC Corporation sows healthy profits from their phosphorus-producing plant on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation," Chairman Duane Thompson said.
Thompson noted FMC's low operating costs enabled it to stay in business during the 1990s while its domestic competitors dwindled to one.
"Operating costs were low because FMC failed to install adequate pollution preventive equipment," Thompson said. "And now, human health, plant and animal life have been impacted."
Tribal leaders said they disagree with Winmill's conclusion that it is safe enough to require FMC to merely cap its hazardous waste ponds instead of removing the waste and disposing of it safely off the reservation.
The ponds span almost 100 acres and contain phosphorus and radioactive sludge 20 feet deep in spots.
They argued capping the ponds will help, but that without removal of the waste, toxic arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals will continue to leak into groundwater.
In his order, Winmill said the tribes appear to argue that regulators should have sought to shut down FMC's plant until FMC was able to install technology to treat wastes produced by its daily operation.
"It is difficult to see how such a draconian measure would be in the public interest," Winmill said.
Tribal leaders responded they never suggested federal regulators should have sought to shut down the plant.
They argued FMC was aware of pending environmental regulatory requirements in the late 1980s, but chose to postpone compliance - endangering human health and
the environment.
Leaders complained that FMC's delays now appear to have worked in the company's favor.
They said Winmill's decision is based upon political and economic reasoning, and not the best interests of Fort Hall and Pocatello or the land.
"FMC's prominent position in the phosphorus industry should have been all the more reason for proactive social responsibility rather than dodging environmental compliance," Thompson said.
The decree requires FMC to spend an estimated $190 million to correct its environmental problems. The company also was fined a record $11.8 million.