Greg Abbott (R-Texas)

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)- ASARCO LLC has placed $52 million into a custodial trust fund to help bankroll environmental cleanup at the company's now-closed smelter in El Paso, the state attorney general's office said Thursday.

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 officials 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.

He added: "Under the court-approved agreement, the ASARCO smelter has forever closed its doors. Equally important, more than $50 million has been secured to fund the environmental cleanup effort so that El Paso can move forward and work to revitalize this very unique downtown area."

Abbott also said his office has secured $29 million payment for low-level radioactive waste cleanup at an ASARCO-owned state Superfund site in Southeast Texas, near Houston.

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

That year, the EPA and the Texas Attorney General's Office charged the company with unlawful recycling practices and improperly managing hazardous waste in violation of federal environmental laws.

The cleanup money comes on the heels of the Tucson, Ariz.-based company's emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

The company filed for federal bankruptcy protection 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.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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