In what is being touted as the nation's largest environmental settlement — both in dollars and in scope — a mining company has paid $1.79 billion for cleanup and restoration of contaminated sites in 19 states, including Utah.
The American Smelting and Refining Co. operated the large lead smelter — the Murray smokestacks — from 1902 to 1949 and also operated a large copper smelter in Box Elder County's community of Garfield.
"The real winner is the environment," said Mathy V. Stanislaus, an assistant administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency.
The announcement was made Thursday via teleconference featuring representatives from the EPA, the Department of Justice, the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service.
Once dominated by the twin smoke stacks that towered over Murray, ASARCO's lead smelting and arsenic refining operations left contaminants in the soil, groundwater and surface water at the 42-acre site and surrounding area.
The stacks have since come down in a complex remediation effort that led to capping contaminated soils and full reclamation of the area, which now sports the Intermountain Medical Center, a Costco, mini-mall and a TRAX stop with enough parking space for 300 cars.
Just last week EPA officials joined with Murray representatives and state environmental regulators in a tour of the area, showcasing it as an example of how Superfund sites can be transformed.
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 $1 billion to clean up polluted Superfund sites," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This will mean cleaner land, water and air for communities across the country."
Calling the settlement "unprecedented," the DOJ's associate attorney general, Tom Perrelli, said federal and state agencies received more than 100 cents on a dollar for cleanup and remediation in a case in which the company's bankruptcy foretold of little reimbursement.
Under the terms of the plan, all allowed claims were paid in full along with interest. The federal government received approximately $776 million, which will be distributed via settlements to address 35 different sites; the Coeur d'Alene Work Trust received $436 million; 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 government 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 bankruptcy in 2005
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. More information on the ASARCO bankruptcy can be found at www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/cleanup/cercla/asarco/index.html