ASARCO provides states $1.8 billion for environmental cleanup

Chris Rizo Dec. 10, 2009, 4:16pm

Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.)

Rob McKenna (R-Wash.)

Greg Abbott (R-Texas)

Chris Koster (D-Mo.)

TUCSON, Ariz. (Legal Newsline)- ASARCO LLC's emergence from federal bankruptcy protection has meant $1.79 billion will go to 19 states for environmental cleanup, officials said Thursday.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based mining company -- American Smelting and Refining Company LLC -- filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections in 2005 amid a strike and more than $1 billion of asbestos and environmental claims.

Last month, a U.S. federal judge approved a $2 billion plan by the Mexican mine company Grupo Mexico SAB de CV to take control of ASARCO.

The company has put into a trust fund nearly $195 million to clean up its contaminated sites in Montana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced.

"It's been a long process," Schweitzer said. "But the settlement funds will pay dividends to Montana's Restoration Economy for over a decade. We know that at least 31 high-paying jobs and about $2.6 million will come back to the local economies for every $1 million spent on environmental restoration and cleanup."

In Montana at least, once ASARCO sites are cleaned up, they can be sold to obtain additional cleanup money or used for public purposes, the Democratic governor said.

For cleanup in Washington, the company has set aside $188 million, said Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican.

"Attorneys in our Ecology Division and experts at the Department of Ecology worked for years, leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of compensation for the environmental damage inflicted by ASARCO,"
McKenna said. "Even in the face of ASARCO's bankruptcy, our team didn't give up. Today's outcome is the result of thousands of hours of legal and technical work, against tremendous odds."

The company has additionally placed $52 million into a custodial trust fund to help bankroll environmental cleanup at the company's now-closed smelter in El Paso, Texas.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office said the fund and cleanup efforts at the former smelter's 422-acre site will be overseen by Roberto Puga of Project Navigator Ltd., a Los Angeles-based environmental consulting firm.

Puga and his firm were selected by official at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

ASARCO has 20 environmental Superfund sites across the United States.

"The environmental cleanup trust fund established today marks the conclusion of the state's lengthy, concerted effort to secure funding for environmental remediation at ASARCO's 100-year-old El Paso smelter," Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Missouri will get more than $64 million in environmental cleanup money, the state's Democratic AG said.

"This bankruptcy settlement is outstanding news for Missouri," state Attorney General Chris Koster said. "We can now begin the cleanup of contamination and the restoration of natural resources at the sites contaminated by ASARCO's practices."

ASARCO produced and refined metals such as copper, cadmium, lead, and zinc for more than 100 years before it shut down in 1999.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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