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Leadville: The Struggle to Revive an American Town
Gillian Klucas
Washington, D.C.: Island Press/Shearwater, 2004
304 pp., $26.00, hardcover
ISBN: 1-55963-385-9

Global thought and local action are at the heart of Leadville, one journalist’s account of a two-decade battle between the Environmental Protection Agency and the citizens of Leadville, Colorado, over the implications and applications of CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund. The author, who moved to Leadville to write her book, is not a scientist, so her journalistic impulses led her to meet and highly personalize the players, as well as incorporate a colorful history of the town, which features numerous mine tailings piles perceived by many locals as its very essence.

The book’s major theme is encapsulated in an NBC Nightly News broadcast from August of 1997 in which reporter Roger O’Neil interviewed Colorado State Senator Ken Chlouber about “the atrocities to historic preservation the EPA was committing against his struggling mountain town.” The basis of the latter-day philanthropic Guggenheim family’s fortune, the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) and numerous others had, over the course of a century, taken nearly a billion dollars worth of lead, silver, copper, zinc, and gold out of the mountains east of town, taking the money with them and leaving behind environmental destruction. As PRPs (potentially responsible parties), ASARCO and others fought the Justice Department with attorneys while the citizens of the town fought what they saw as an invasion of Easterners set on “digging up one of the world’s greatest mining camps,…big machines strip[ping] away in a day what took the old miners shovel after shovel and years to create—the history of mines like Nugget Gulch and Coronado.” That history, a magnet to tourism, is seen by many Leadville citizens as their future.

The Mineral Belt Trail, designated by the Department of the Interior as a National Recreational Trail, currently winds past the remains of mines such as Blind Tom, Robert Emmet, Pyrenees, Greenback, Maid of Erin, Fanny Rawlins, Coronado, Clear Grit, Wolftone and R.A.M. (short for Ragged Ass Miner), commemorating characters such as the Unsinkable Molly Brown, who survived the sinking of the Titanic, and Baby Doe, whose rags-to-riches-to-rags story is a popular Leadville legend. Meanwhile, runoff from that history continues to pollute the Arkansas River as a legacy of Colorado’s golden age of mining. Neither the Guggenheim Foundation nor the May Department Stores Company, another billionaire operation that got its start in the Leadville mines, has to date contributed to the future of Leadville. The EPA continues its work there, in a new climate of relative cooperation, the evolution of which is told of here.


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“In a market economy, private investors are the ultimate arbiter of what energy technologies can compete and yield reliable profits, so to understand nuclear power's prospects, just follow the money. Private investors have flatly rejected nuclear power but enthusiastically bought its main supply-side competitors decentralized cogeneration and renewables. Worldwide, by the end of 2004, these supposedly inadeqaute alternatives had more installed capacity than nuclear, produced 92 percent as much electricity, and were growing 5.9 times faster and accelerating, while nuclear was fading.”
—Amory B. Lovins "Competitors To Nuclear: Eat My Dust"
RMI Solutions, Fall 2005

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