Washington, DC — A federal administrative law judge ruled today that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) illegally dismissed a manager overseeing the cleanup of the Anaconda Mine for pursuing worker safety, as well as radiation, air and water pollution violations, according to the opinion released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Earle Dixon, the Project Manager for the Anaconda Mine at Yerington, Nevada, was fired from his position in October 2004 on the day before his probationary period would have elapsed. Following a three-day hearing in Reno, Dixon was awarded back pay, $10,000 in moving expenses, attorney fees and costs. The BLM may appeal this decision to the Administrative Review Board of the Secretary of Labor.
“This is both a victory for Earle Dixon and for the idea that the federal government is not above the law,” stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who co-counseled the case with Dixon’s lead counsel, Mick Harrison. “The people of Nevada should now be asking hard questions about whether they are being put at risk by the very public agencies that are supposed to be protecting them.”
Dixon clashed with then- BLM Nevada Director Bob Abbey for raising problems that were being officially ignored because they would drive up clean-up costs, including –
- Radiation readings well above background levels that pose risks to the health of workers onsite;
- Higher than expected contamination of soil, groundwater and drinking water wells; and
- Non-compliance with a number of federal pollution standards, including public exposure to radioactive and toxic metals in air-borne dust.
At one point, the BLM returned $700,000 in federal clean-up funds that had been earmarked for Anaconda Mine clean-up rather than admit that spreading contamination and radiation needed to be addressed.
The Anaconda Mine is an abandoned copper mine covering more than 3,600 acres where acid run-off and waste rock containing low levels of uranium, thorium and other toxic metals have been deposited in unlined ponds. The mine has also had a succession of owners, including, most recently, the Atlantic Richfield Company owned by British Petroleum. Today, half the site is located on public lands managed by the BLM. Dixon's job was to coordinate the hazardous waste management and compliance at the site with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Nevada, tribes and responsible private parties.
At the hearing, Dixon's co-workers at BLM and colleagues from other federal and state agencies described Dixon’s dogged efforts to secure environmental compliance. As a result of Dixon’s disclosures, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to assume management of the site.
“While this ruling is some compensation, the federal officials responsible for this travesty will not likely be held to account’” Condit added, noting that Bob Abbey has retired. “Earle Dixon’s courage helped shield Nevadans from the neglect of their own government.”