In what the U.S. Department of Justice is touting as the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history, mining giant ASARCO has paid $1.79 billion to fund environmental cleanup efforts at more than 80 sites in 19 states.
ASARCO has spent the past 110 years extracting lead, zinc and copper at sites around the country, leaving in its wake a lot of hazardous material. But with the company mired in debt during the past decade, it seemed unlikely that it would be held liable for the cost of cleaning up contaminated sites.
In 2002, the Justice Department accused ASARCO’s parent company, Grupo Mexico, of trying to strip the company of all its assets to avoid paying its bills.
But in a conference call today, Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli called the company’s reorganization settlement “historic.”
“This is a great day for the environment and the American taxpayer,” Perrelli said, adding that the payment is “over 100 cents on the dollar of what we had sought.”
More than half of the ASARCO payment will go to environmental restoration work now under way outside Tacoma, Wash.; Everett, Wash.; and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Tucson, Ariz.-based ASARCO filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 amid a strike and facing massive asbestos and environmental claims. Last month, a federal judge in Texas approved a more than $2 billion plan by Grupo Mexico to retake control of ASARCO. Grupo Mexico had acquired ASARCO in 1999, but lost control of it because of the bankruptcy.
John Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in the Dec. 10 conference call, “This is a demonstration that just because a company goes into bankruptcy, it will not be able to avoid its responsibility. This is a classic case showing that you will be held liable for [your] actions despite filing for bankruptcy.”