MAC: Mines and Communities

Asarco Pays $1.79 Billion to Fix Sites across 19 US states

Published by MAC on 2009-12-14
Source: Environmental News Service (ENS), EPA, others (2009-12-10)

An agreement was reached last week, whereby one of America's worst-polluting companies, Asarco, will contribute directly to rectifying some of its longstanding environmental abuses.

The agreement, reached between the company and the US government, has been heralded as "unprecedented".  And it is, in terms of the size of claims ostensibly being settled. However, the US$1.79 billion agreed is below what some environmentalists think will ultimately be required.

Nonetheless, it is more than half  the sum the US government this week offered to settle claims of income losses by the country's Tribes. (See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9736)

Unlike many other criminal companies, Asarco didn't disappear off the face of the earth it once scarred. Thanks to the recent financial "rescue" by Grupo Mexico, the company has the cash to meet at least some of its obligations.

ESPAÑOL

ASARCO Parent Pays $1.79 Billion in Record Environmental Bankruptcy Settlement

Environmental News Service (ENS)

10 December 2009

WASHINGTON, DC  - As a result of the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, $1.79 billion has been paid to fund environmental cleanup and restoration under a bankruptcy reorganization of American Smelting and Refining Company, ASARCO, federal officials announced today.

ASARCO LLC is a mining, smelting, and refining company based in Tucson, Arizona that mines and processes primarily copper.

Parent corporation Grupo Mexico is providing the $1.79 billion to resolve the ASARCO's environmental liabilities from operations that contaminated land, water and wildlife resources on federal, state, tribal and private land in 19 states.

"Through this historic settlement, the American public is compensated for the damage and loss of natural resources resulting from ASARCO's past mining, smelting and refining operations," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "Were it not for this agreement, these injured resources would either remain impaired for future generations or require taxpayer expenditures to achieve environmental restoration."

The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at the more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states, said federal officials.

"Today's landmark enforcement settlement will provide almost one billion dollars to clean up polluted Superfund sites," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This will mean cleaner land, water and air for communities across the country."

The contaminated Superfund sites are in Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

"The effort to recover this money was a collaborative and coordinated response by the states and federal government," said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. Our combined efforts have resulted in the largest recovery of funds to pay for past and future clean up of hazardous materials in the nation's history."

"Today is a historic day for the environment and the people affected across the country," Perrelli said.

The United States received approximately $776 million, which will be distributed in accordance with the underlying settlements to address 35 different sites.

Much of the money paid to the United States will be placed in special accounts in the Superfund to be used by EPA to pay for future cleanup work. It will also be placed into accounts at the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to pay for natural resource restoration.

In addition, the Coeur d'Alene Work Trust was paid $436 million, while the three custodial trusts which address the owned but not operating properties of ASARCO and involve a total of 13 states and 24 sites were paid a cumulative total of $261 million.

As well, payments totaling more than $321 million were paid to 14 states to fund environmental settlement obligations at 36 sites.

"This settlement provides significant resources to address land restoration from past mining activities on National Forest System lands in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington," said Joel Holtrop, deputy chief for the National Forest System, U.S. Forest Service.

ASARCO has operated for nearly 110 years - first as a holding company for diverse smelting, refining, and mining operations throughout the United States and now as the Arizona-based integrated copper-mining, smelting, and refining company.

ASARCO filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code on August 9, 2005.

By the time it filed for bankruptcy, ASARCO's core operating assets were limited to operations in the states of Arizona and Texas. Yet the company continued to own many non-operating properties that were highly contaminated and also was subject to environmental claims at sites that were not owned by the company.

In August 2009, following lengthy litigation, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas held a hearing on competing plans of reorganization for ASARCO that would allow the company to be purchased out of bankruptcy. During this hearing, two competing plans emerged that proposed to pay creditors in full with interest.

On August 31, Judge Richard Schmidt of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi issued a recommendation to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to confirm the plan proposed by ASARCO's parent company, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville accepted Judge Schmidt's recommendation and confirmed Grupo Mexico's plan on November 13.

On December 9, Grupo Mexico met its funding obligations and also complied with the environmental payment and property transfer obligations outlined in the numerous settlement agreements, which had been approved by the bankruptcy court.

The reorganized company remains responsible for environmental liabilities at the properties it will continue to own and operate.

One of the largest settlement areas covers 2,500 square miles and spans parts of three states - southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri and northeast Oklahoma.

The Tri-State Mining District is located in the Spring River and Neosho River watersheds, both of which flow south, terminating in the headwaters of Grand Lake O' the Cherokee. It encompasses the Tar Creek Superfund Site, near Picher, in Ottawa County, Oklahoma, where mine tailings are deposited in hundreds of piles and sediment retention ponds near residential communities and in developed urban and rural areas. Some piles are as high as 200 feet and contain lead, cadmium and zinc.

Natural resources affected by mining-related contamination include: surface water, fish, migratory birds, freshwater mussels and threatened and endangered species and their supporting habitat, such as sediments and floodplain areas.

The Department of the Interior, the states of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, and six American Indian tribes jointly received $62.4 million for natural resource damages in the district, while Interior received an additional $2.3 million to reimburse past assessment costs.

In the Coeur d'Alene Basin of Northern Idaho, the Bunker Hill Superfund Facility includes extensive public land, water and wildlife and migratory bird habitat resources administered by the federal government and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

Natural resources that have been injured by the mining activities include: surface water, groundwater, fish, wildlife, and migratory birds and their supporting ecosystems.

Interior and the U.S. Forest Service jointly received $79.5 million in the settlement. In addition, $28.9 million will be held by the Successor Coeur d'Alene Custodial and Work Trust to be used to perform work selected and prioritized by federal agencies.

 


Largest Environmental Bankruptcy in U.S. History Will Result in Payment of $1.79 Billion towards Environmental Cleanup and Restoration / Largest recovery of money for hazardous waste clean up ever

EPA Release

10 December 2009

WASHINGTON-As a result of the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, $1.79 billion has been paid to fund environmental cleanup and restoration under a bankruptcy reorganization of American Smelting and Refining Company LLC (ASARCO), the Justice Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture announced today.

ASARCO is a leading producer of copper and one of the largest nonferrous metal producers in the United States. It is based in Arizona and is responsible for sites around the country that are contaminated with hazardous waste.

The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states. Those states are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

"Today's landmark enforcement settlement will provide almost one billion dollars to clean up polluted Superfund sites," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This will mean cleaner land, water and air for communities across the country."

"The effort to recover this money was a collaborative and coordinated response by the states and federal government. Our combined efforts have resulted in the largest recovery of funds to pay for past and future clean up of hazardous materials in the nation's history. Today is a historic day for the environment and the people affected across the country," said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli.

"This settlement exemplifies government at all levels working effectively for the American taxpayer to recover damages from polluters and restore and protect important national landscapes and significant wildlife resources that have been injured," said Interior Assistant Secretary Tom Strickland. "In consultation and collaboration with our state and tribal co-trustees, this money will be used exclusively to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of resources injured at more than a dozen sites where ASARCO operated and we have identified natural resource damage."

"I would like to thank the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and USDA Office of General Counsel for their diligence in reaching this comprehensive settlement that will so benefit restoration of public lands," said Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief for the National Forest System, U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture. "This settlement provides significant resources to address land restoration from past mining activities on National Forest System lands in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington."

Under the terms of the plan, all allowed claims were paid in full along with interest. Funds were distributed as follows:

The United States received approximately $776 million, which will be distributed in accordance with the underlying settlements to address 35 different sites;
The Coeur d'Alene Work Trust was paid $436 million;
The three custodial trusts which address the owned but not operating properties of ASARCO and involve a total of 13 states and 24 sites were paid a cumulative total of approximately $261 million; and
Payments totaling in excess of $321 million were paid to 14 different states to fund environmental settlement obligations at 36 individual sites.

In total, the payment will address environmental cleanup and restoration at more than 80 sites around the country. Much of the money paid to the United States will be placed in special accounts in the Superfund to be used by EPA to pay for future cleanup work. It will also be placed into accounts at the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture to pay for natural resource restoration.

ASARCO filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code on Aug. 9, 2005. American Smelting and Refining Company or ASARCO has operated for nearly 110 years-first as a holding company for diverse smelting, refining, and mining operations throughout the United States and now as the Arizona-based integrated copper-mining, smelting, and refining company.

By the time it filed for bankruptcy, ASARCO's core operating assets were limited to certain operations in the states of Arizona and Texas. However, it continued to own numerous non-operating properties that were highly contaminated and was subject to environmental claims at sites that were not owned by the company.

In August 2009, following lengthy litigation, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas held a two-week hearing on competing plans of reorganization for ASARCO that would allow the company to be purchased out of bankruptcy. During this hearing, two competing plans emerged that proposed to pay creditors in full with interest.

On Aug. 31, 2009, Judge Richard Schmidt of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi issued a recommendation to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to confirm the plan proposed by ASARCO's parent company-a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville accepted Judge Schmidt's recommendation and confirmed Grupo Mexico's plan on Nov. 13, 2009.

On Dec. 9, 2009, Grupo Mexico met its funding obligations and the plan was consummated. Additionally, the environmental payment and property transfer obligations outlined in the numerous settlement agreements, which had been approved by the bankruptcy court over the course of the litigation, were complied with.

The full payment of environmental claims, plus interest, will facilitate the cleanup of contamination and restoration of natural resources at numerous sites across the country. The reorganized company remains liable for environmental liabilities at the properties that it will continue to own and operate.

More information on ASARCO bankruptcy:
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/cleanup/cercla/asarco/index.html

Contact Information: Deb Berlin berlin.deb@epa.gov 202-564-4914 202-564-4355


Asarco pays $52 million for cleanup at EP smelter

Associated Press (AP)

11 December 2009

EL PASO, Texas - Copper miner Asarco LLC has provided $52 million to help pay for environmental cleanup at its closed El Paso smelter.

The state Attorney General's Office says the funds were transfered into a trust fund Thursday as part of an agreement it negotiated with the company.

The 422-acre site near downtown El Paso and has been dormant since 1999. It produced and refined heavy metals such as lead, copper, cadmium, and zinc for more than 100 years.

Attorney General Greg Abbott's office also secured $29 million from Asarco to pay for low-level radioactive waste cleanup at the company's Superfund site near Houston.

Under a court-approved bankruptcy reorganization, Asarco's El Paso smelter is permanently closed.


Mine waste deal huge

Nearly $600 million allotted to CdA Basin

Becky Kramer

The Spokesman-Review

11 December 2009

Washington will receive $188 million as part of Asarco's environmental settlement. Most of the money will be used to clean up a toxic plume from the company's defunct Tacoma lead smelter, which spewed arsenic, lead and other metals over 1,000 square miles. The settlement also includes cleanup money for an Everett smelter, a Pierce County landfill and old mine sites in northwest and Eastern Washington.

Cleanup of mine waste in the Coeur d'Alene Basin got a $583 million shot in the arm Thursday, when Asarco Inc. agreed to settle environmental claims at 80 toxic sites around the nation.

Asarco paid $1.8 billion to settle the federal government's claims in 19 states as part of a 4-year-old bankruptcy proceeding. The payment is the largest recovery in the history of the federal Superfund program.

"It demonstrates the government's commitment to ‘the polluter pays' principle," said Mathy Stanislaus, a top Superfund official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "It ensures that responsible parties - and not taxpayers - pay for the cleanup of hazardous waste."

Asarco produced silver, lead, zinc and copper for 110 years. The company left a toxic legacy at mine sites and former smelter operations in the Northwest, Midwest and South.

Asarco was a longtime operator in Idaho's Silver Valley, where lawns are dug up and replaced to protect children from lead dust exposure. Mining pollution also takes a toll on the region's wildlife. Each spring, migrating tundra swans die of lead poisoning from ingesting metals-laden sediment in marshes along the Coeur d'Alene River.

"From the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's perspective, this is an outstanding day because the settlement will finally provide serious money to clean up the toxic legacy of mining in the 19th century," said Chief Allan, chairman of the tribe's governing council.

Nearly $600 million for Superfund work is a staggering sum, said Jon Cantamessa, chairman of Shoshone County's board of commissioners.

"It's hard to comprehend that amount of money," he said. "Anytime you have funding at that level, particularly in this economy, it's going to make a difference."

EPA officials said the settlement will go a long way toward addressing pollution problems in the basin. More than $2 billion worth of cleanup work remains in an area that stretches from the Coeur d'Alene River's headwaters to Lake Coeur d'Alene and parts of the Spokane River. Rural Shoshone County, where the unemployment rate hit 17 percent in November, should receive an economic boost from the work.

Dan Opalski, EPA's regional administrator in Seattle, said he couldn't predict when the first projects will get under way. However, "you can expect to see a ramping up of the cleanup activity," he said.

In recent years, taxpayers spent about $16.5 million annually on basin cleanup, primarily for projects that reduced children's lead exposure. The federal government continues to seek monetary claims against other Silver Valley mine operators.

EPA anticipates using part of the Asarco settlement to halt the spread of heavy metals through flooding in the Coeur d'Alene basin, Opalski said. During high water, contaminated soil gets carried downstream, where it's deposited on beaches and recreational areas.

Another $80 million will address damage to the environment, including the toxic marshes along the Coeur d'Alene River, said Don Steffeck, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's going to initiate some wonderful restoration projects," he said.

Federal attorneys spent more than 50,000 hours preparing the government's case against Asarco. In 2005, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Texas after the price of copper fell. Rising commodity prices helped the federal government recover its full claim against Asarco, including interest payments.

"This is a company that actually made money while it was in bankruptcy, which is a tribute to the debtor-in-possession," said John Cruden, a deputy attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Filing for bankruptcy doesn't allow companies to evade their environmental liabilities, he added.

Asarco, based in Tucson, Ariz., is a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico. Several companies competed for control of Asarco during the bankruptcy process. Grupo Mexico was allowed to regain control of Asarco's assets in exchange for full payment of Asarco's debts.


Asarco funds for Omaha

By Nancy Gaarder

World-Herald

11 December 2009

The cleanup of Omaha's lead-contaminated yards will receive an infusion of nearly $220 million - the result of the largest environmental bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history.

The federal government on Thursday announced the $1.79 billion national settlement with metals processing giant Asarco. Asarco has been blamed for polluting more than 80 sites nationwide, including the substantial lead contamination of yards in eastern Omaha. The company operated a lead refinery in Omaha for more than 100 years.

When Asarco filed for bankruptcy, nearly four years ago, Tom Perrelli, associate attorney general for the United States, described the settlement as extraordinary and unexpected.

Depending on what happens next, the Asarco money for lead cleanup in Omaha could mean:

An accelerated cleanup of yards. At its current, already-record pace, the Environmental Protection Agency would need an additional 10 years to clean up all 15,000 Omaha yards it says have been contaminated by lead.

Savings to taxpayers. Any money from Asarco is money that taxpayers - and others - won't have to come up with. The government has estimated that Omaha's cleanup could cost $406 million.

Financial protection from shortfalls in the federal budget. Otherwise, Omaha's cleanup would have to compete for money each year with hundreds of other environmental cleanup projects.

A game-changer in the legal jousting between the EPA and Union Pacific Railroad. Before this settlement, U.P., which owned the land on which Asarco operated, had faced the potential of being held liable for the entire cost of the cleanup.

With the Asarco settlement, the railroad now knows that more than half of the anticipated cleanup costs will have been paid. Regional EPA attorney Steve Sanders said the agency would not seek to recoup from other companies the money it receives from Asarco.

Donna Kush, a U.P. spokeswoman, said Thursday that the settlement "does not impact our position on the issue; we are continuing discussions with EPA."

Cheryl Weston, head of the Lead Safe Omaha Coalition, a neighborhood group that has worked on the problem for years, was stunned Thursday by news of the settlement.

"Wow," she said. "I've got to have time to take that in."

Weston said she hopes the money will allow the EPA to move more quickly.

"We're trying to protect children," she said. "There's no reason not to go forward and be done, so that instead of looking at another 10 years, we've got maybe three to five at the most."

Lead poisoning can permanently lower a child's intelligence and has been linked to behavioral and hearing problems.
Advertising

Lead can be found in older house paint, gasoline and other products. U.P. and other critics have contended that focusing so intently on soil was misguided.

EPA officials described the settlement as good news for Omaha. However, it's too early to tell how it will affect the pace of work or future funding, said Bob Feild, EPA's Omaha project manager.

On the question of an accelerated cleanup, Feild said there are practical limits on how many yards can be remedied at once. The agency is replacing soil in about 1,000 Omaha yards a year, faster than anywhere else in the country. Practical limits include finding heavy equipment, clean soil and trained workers.

"This will allow us to consider speeding up progress at the site," Feild said. "We haven't made a final decision."

On the question of using this money to guarantee future funding, Feild said it hasn't been decided how much of the Omaha settlement will be allocated to future costs and how much will be used to offset past expenses. The EPA has spent more than $168 million in Omaha. That decision, he said, will be made by regional and national officials.

"Obviously, this is very good news," Feild said.

The State of Nebraska's will receive $1.76 million from the settlement, said Brian McManus, spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. That money will be used to cover the state's expenses at the Omaha site. Under federal law, the state has been required to help with some cleanup costs.

This is the second time money from an Asarco settlement has been funneled to the Omaha cleanup effort. Several years ago, Asarco agreed to about $100 million in a separate national settlement. Of that agreement, $16.5 million is being sent here.


Missouri will get cleanup funds

By Kim McGuire

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

11 December 2009

More than $234 million will be funneled into Missouri as a result of a legal settlement in the largest environmental bankruptcy case in U.S. history, state and federal officials announced Thursday.

As part of its reorganization, American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO), an Arizona-based mining company, agreed to give $1.79 billion to 19 states for environmental cleanups. Illinois was also part of the settlement, but as of Thursday, information was unavailable on the state's share of the money.

In Missouri, about $64 million will be used to reimburse the state for past cleanup costs and to help pay for future cleanup work.

Sites in Jasper and Newton counties will receive $3.25 million under the settlement while sites in St. Francois, Iron and Madison counties will receive $1.25 million. The state and the Doe Run Co. will also get $5 million to pay for the cleanup at the Glover smelter.

The state also has a joint claim for $55 million with the U.S. Department of Interior for natural resource damage from past ASARCO activities.

Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also announced on Thursday that five Missouri Superfund sites will receive more than $70 million as a result of the settlement.

They include: Big River Mine Tailings/St. Joe Minerals Corp.; Federal Mine Tailings; Madison County Mines; Jasper County/Oronogo-Duenweg Mining Belt; and Newton County Mine Tailings.


Bankruptcy settlement yields millions for Perth Amboy, South Plainfield site cleanups

By Ken Serrano

http://www.mycentraljersey.com

10 December 2009

MIDDLESEX COUNTY - More than $16 million will go toward the cleanup of a site in Perth Amboy contaminated by a copper refinery operation that closed in 1976 - money coming from the bankruptcy reorganization of American Smelting and Refinery Co.

Another $1 million from the Asarco bankruptcy will be paid to the state Department of Environmental Protection for "natural resource damage" at a South Plainfield site where the company ran a research laboratory.

The state Attorney General's office announced Thursday that $30 million from the bankruptcy settlement will fund the cleanup of former Asarco properties in New Jersey. The current owners of those properties will remediate the sites using the settlement money.

Some $14 million will be used for cleanup of a 7,000-acre industrial site in Manchester and Berkeley Townships and Lakehurst in Ocean County. Asarco dredged sand to mine minerals at the site from 1973 to 1982.

The property in South Plainfield lies at the corner of Oak Tree Road and Park Avenue, now the site of a shopping center, said Glenn Cullen, borough administrator.

The Asarco operation there led to the contamination of groundwater with arsenic, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethylene, according to the Attorney General's office. The status of remediation efforts there was unknown last night.

The property in Perth Amboy, considered the city's most chemically polluted site, falls within a redevelopment area dubbed the I-Port 440 International Business Center. The site remains privately owned.

Asarco ran a copper smelting operation on the 170-acre parcel for 75 years. Soil and groundwater remain contaminated. Among the chemicals to be cleaned up are arsenic, antimony and lead.

During the Tucson-based company's bankruptcy proceedings, it paid $1.79 billion to settle environmental claims it faced in 19 states. It was the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, according to the Attorney General's office.

The mining company emerged Wednesday from four years of bankruptcy reorganization after being purchased by Mexico City-based Grupo Mexico SAB, and all the settlements were funded.

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