Government Will Be Left With Responsibility of Cleaning Up Polluted Sites in Many Western States
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 08/10/2005
Washington, D.C. — The mining company ASARCO, a subsidiary of the Mexican corporation Grupo Mexico S.A. de C.V, declared bankruptcy today, leaving taxpayers and western communities the potential for footing the bill for decades of environmental damage. ASARCO owns mining and smelting operations all over the West. According to an 8/10/05 Reuters News article, ASARCO estimates that its environmental liabilities could exceed $1billion. The companycited these liabilities as one of the main reasons for the declaration of bankruptcy.
ASARCO's bankruptcy could leave a landscape of polluted sites across the West for federal, state and local governments to clean up. For example:
- The Department of Ecology in Washington estimate's ASARCO's clean-up costs at three sites in the state at nearly $100 million.
- In Arizona, ASARCO owns the Mission mine, the Ray mine and the Silver Bell mine. The estimated liability for the Ray and Mission mines alone is over $850 million.
- ASARCO owns or has an interest in the Mike Horse Mine, now a proposed State Superfund Site, and the East Helena Smelter, now a federal Superfund Site. The U.S. Forest Service announced in May that the tailings impoundment at the Mike Horse mine was compromised and likely to fail.
“Communities and the taxpayers are the ones that suffer when mining companies go belly up,” said Roger Featherstone, Southwest Circuit Rider for EARTHWORKS. “In a time of record copper prices it is appalling that a mining company could leave such a devastating legacy for so many communities in the West. ASARCO has chosen to cut and run instead of taking care of its responsibilities to workers and the environment.”
In 2003, the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked a federal district court in Washington, DC to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent ASARCO from selling off its assets. The DOJ was worried that the company was attempting to liquidate its assets in order to declare bankruptcy and leave their environmental liabilities behind.
“The fact that a single mining company is responsible for so many highly contaminated mining sites illustrates the inadequacy of our federal mining laws,” said Bonnie Gestring, Northwest circuit rider for EARTHWORKS. “We need mining laws that provide financial accountability, stricter enforcement provisions, and concrete environmental protection standards.”
The 1872 Mining Law remains essentially the same today as it was when it was enacted 130 years ago under President Ulysses S. Grant. Real and meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law could have prevented some of this environmental damage.
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