Magazine journalist Klucas debuts with a patiently detailed unfolding of the environmental missteps that have marked the entire history of Leadville, Colorado.
The town sits atop an impressive array of mineral deposits: silver and gold, copper and manganese, molybdenite, and, of course, lead. This variety, explains Klucas, allowed Leadville to survive when other one-horse mining burgs went bust. During its heyday, the town hosted Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt at the opera, made a multimillionaire of Meyer Guggenheim, and generated enormous quantities of waste. Even during lean times, Leadville was a community tightly knit by friendship, camaraderie, and pride in its mining tradition. But tunnels often burped a gush of suspended metals into the Arkansas River, creating Technicolor hues. One spectacular belch coincided with the rise of environmental concern across the country, bringing the EPA, the CDC, and other federal agencies to Leadville’s door and earning it a reputation as the Rockies’ Poison Central. At this moment, the story gets really interesting, and the author’s clarifying touch pays off. The defenders of the environment came on like gangbusters, alienating the citizenry to such an extent that they found the EPA more toxic than the tailings. Klucas shows that all concerned parties acted in their own worst interests: the regulators creating a stultifying bureaucracy, the mine operators treating the problem as a legal rather than an engineering issue, the Colorado attorney general filing an absurd class-action lawsuit. “Any law that invites this much litigation is poorly drafted,” one judge commented, referring to the Superfund’s severe liability provisions and general clumsiness. “Why should you pass a law that is so complicated that everyone spends more on lawyers than they do on the technical side solving the problem?” Character sketches provide a refreshing break from all the legal squabbling and stalling; Klucas makes even the drab players as bright as the river.
Meticulous almost to a fault, but flashing with human interest and keen environmental insight: an illuminating march through environmental politics at a turning point in green awareness.