- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

A huge mining company has paid $1.8 billion for pollution cleanup in what the federal government Thursday called the largest environmentally-related bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history.

American Smelting and Refining Company LLC (Asarco), one of the nation’s largest metal producers, paid the settlement as part of a bankruptcy reorganization that included a takeover by Grupo Mexico, Mexico’s largest mining company.

Mathy V. Stanislaus, assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the case serves as a victory for the “polluter-pays principle.”

“The real winner today is the environment,” Mr. Stanislaus said during a conference call Thursday announcing the settlement.

Authorities said the money from the settlement will be used to pay for past and future cleaning costs for more than 80 sites contaminated by mining, most of which are located in Western states.

The 19 states where the cleanup sites are located are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.

“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,” Interior Assistant Secretary Tom Strickland said.

Asarco, an Arizona-based company and one of the nation’s largest copper manufacturers, originally filed for bankruptcy in 2005 after nearly 110 years in business, according to press release from the Justice Department, EPA, Interior Department and Agriculture Department.

At the time of its bankruptcy filing, Asarco operated only on a limited basis in Arizona and Texas, but was still responsible for many other polluted sites, according to the release.

Despite that, other companies began expressing an interest in purchasing Asarco in recent years, partly because of increases in copper prices, said Attorney General Tom Perrelli.

Last month, federal Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas approved Grupo Mexico’s plan to buy the company and bring it out of bankruptcy. Grupo Mexico’s plan had previously been recommended to Judge Hanen by bankruptcy Judge Richard Schmidt.

The plan required that $1.8 billion be paid to the federal government and various state governments for environmental cleanup.

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