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Asarco cleanup deal OK’d

Wed., June 10, 2009

$1.1 billion would go for environmental claims

A federal bankruptcy judge has approved a $1.1 billion payout that would resolve Asarco LLC’s environmental claims in multiple states, including the company’s role in creating a Superfund site in the Coeur d’Alene River Basin.

“It’s a relatively significant step toward resolving Asarco’s bankruptcy,” said Darrell Arly, an Idaho deputy attorney general.

But the money won’t be available until the mining company emerges from bankruptcy. In August, the Texas bankruptcy court is scheduled to consider three possible reorganization scenarios that could end Asarco’s four-year-old bankruptcy proceedings.

Some creditors may receive only partial payment for their claims.

The Coeur d’Alene Basin cleanup would get $482 million through the environmental claims settlement, which the judge approved Friday. Another $103 million is slated for cleanup of pollution caused by Asarco’s former smelters in Tacoma and Everett. Air pollution from the Tacoma smelter spread over 1,000-square miles, leading to elevated arsenic and lead levels in soil and water.

More than $2 billion worth of remediation work remains in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, which also is polluted with heavy metals, according to federal estimates.

Asarco’s history in the Coeur d’Alene Mining District dates to the early 1900s. The 110-year-old company is among multiple firms that operated in Idaho’s Silver Valley before laws regulated mining activity, including smelter emissions and disposal of mine tailings.

Asarco is based in Tucson, Ariz. Historic Silver Valley mines owned or operated by the company include the Morning, Frisco and Page mines.

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