Environmental cleanups at more than 80 sites in 19 states will move forward with hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding under settlements with the sale of bankrupt copper miner Asarco LLC, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.
Nearly $1.8 billion paid by Asarco to federal and state governments will pay for cleanup at abandoned lead smelters, metal refineries and copper and other mines. The Tucson, Ariz.-based company paid the money to settle environmental claims it faced during its bankruptcy proceedings.
The legacy of contamination at the century-old company's mines and smelters was a prime reason for its 2005 bankruptcy filing. In the months before the filing, Asarco's costs for asbestos claims and environmental cleanup at abandoned mines and refineries across the Western U.S. were eating up $50 million to $100 million per month.
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.
"We've received the largest recovery of money for environmental cleanup in U.S. history," said Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli. "This was certainly a result that no one expected when Asarco went into bankruptcy."
Asarco operated copper, lead and other heavy metal mines and smelters across the West for the past century, but most are closed and require extensive remediation. The company sought bankruptcy protection in 2005 after being overwhelmed by the cleanup costs.
Asarco still operates three copper mines in Arizona and a refinery in Amarillo, Texas.
The states with sites that will be cleaned up are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
The federal government will use $776 million it received to remediate more than 35 different sites, including an abandoned lead smelter in Omaha, Neb.
Of the remaining money, $436 million will go to the Coeur d'Alene Work Trust to clean up a mine on the Idaho-Washington border. Three trusts that will oversee remediation at 24 sites in 13 states received $261 million, and about $321 million went to 14 states to fund environmental settlement obligations at more than 36 sites.
All the settlements were negotiated between Asarco and state and federal governments during the bankruptcy process and had been previously announced.
The closing of the bankruptcy deal Wednesday ended a years-long battle waged by Groupo Mexico to reacquire the firm it first bought in 1999. Grupo Mexico lost control of Asarco in the bankruptcy proceedings but won a court auction for the company last month by offering $2.2 billion to creditors together with an estimated $1.4 billion in cash held by Asarco.