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This week, freelance journalist Kathleen McLaughlin published a story in the Washington Post detailing Butte, Montana’s collective anxiety about a long-awaited and finally forthcoming consent decree that will lay out the final phase of cleanup of Butte’s expansive Superfund site. Publication of the legally binding document has been repeatedly delayed with little explanation, but is currently set for Thursday, Feb. 13, pending final review by the U.S. Department of Justice. As McLaughlin tells Montana Free Press editor-in-chief John S. Adams, “I think the EPA and the city are going to have … a big job ahead of them selling [the consent decree] to the community when the community wasn’t publicly involved in the discussions.”

For more than 20 years, Montana native McLaughlin has reported on inequality and marginalized communities in the American West and Asia. After more than a decade in China, McLaughlin recently moved back to her hometown of Butte, where the environmental consequences of decades of copper mining remain an ongoing issue.

McLaughlin also talks about her career arc as a journalist, and the uncomfortable parallels between the Chinese government’s treatment of journalists and the way some American politicians undermine the free press for political purposes. 

“Political leaders who jump on this bandwagon of yelling about ‘fake news’ are giving away one of the pillars of our [democratic] system,” McLaughlin says. 

She also talks about how her experience in China during the 2003 SARS epidemic informs her understanding of the Chinese government’s current reporting on the coronavirus.McLaughlin’s’ interview with Adams is featured on the latest installment of the Montana Lowdown podcast, a weekly publication of Montana Free Press.

Alex McKenzie has worked with a diverse array of start-ups and nonprofit organizations. He is a former record producer and music journalist, has additional experience working in agriculture and food security, and previously operated his own dairy business. He lives in southwest Montana. Follow him on Twitter.