May 1, 2007

"Few issues have united El Paso, Juárez and Southern New Mexico like halting the 100 years of pollution caused by Asarco. We will fight this permit as long as Asarco's pollutants contaminate our air, our soil and our children."

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh,

EL PASO –  Today, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Executive Director Glenn Shankle issued a report recommending a 5-year renewal of Asarco's current air permit.  El Paso residents will have seven weeks to comment on the report, with the period ending on June 18, 2007.

"We are very disappointed in the Director's Report," said Senator Shapleigh.  "It directly contradicts the findings of the Judges who actually came to El Paso to hear the evidence."

From July 11-22, 2005, independent Administrative Law Judges heard evidence on Asarco's permit and determined that:

  • ASARCO has not proven that its emissions will not cause or contribute to air pollution.
  •  ASARCO has not proven that its compliance history during the last five years of operation warrants renewal of its permit.

"How a Director can ignore the findings of a Judge who was actually present to hear the evidence raises serious issues," Senator Shapleigh said.  "Asarco has one of the worst environmental records in the United States.  Asarco filed bankruptcy and left $24.3 billion of liabilities in nearly one hundred towns across the West."

"As a result, we have asked the Commission to have the next hearing in El Paso. They need to hear from people. Few issues have united El Paso, Juarez and Southern New Mexico like halting the 100 years of pollution caused by Asarco.  We will fight this permit as long as ASARCO's pollutants contaminate our air, our soil and our children."

On April 24, Senator Shapleigh sent the letter requesting TCEQ Commissioners hold their upcoming hearing on Asarco's permit in El Paso.  Senator Shapleigh wrote, "Due to Asarco's proximity to the city's university and downtown area, the El Paso community has a large stake in the outcome of these proceedings.  Over the last two years, the City of El Paso, Municipio de Juárez, the City of Sunland Park, New Mexico, and area legislators have all opposed the opening of Asarco." 

The strong local interest in Asarco was demonstrated by the many El Paso citizens who traveled over eight hours in order to attend the Commissioners' February 2006 meeting in Austin. 

In February 1999, Asarco ceased operations of its copper smelter in El Paso. Since that closure, $24.3 billion in claims have been filed against Asarco in bankruptcy court.  Asarco, a subsidiary of the Mexican corporation Grupo Mexico S.A. de C.V, declared bankruptcy in August 2005, leaving taxpayers and western communities possibly footing the bill for decades of environmental damage.

Asarco is currently liable for cleanup work or potentially liable at more than three-dozen sites in 16 states across the country.

In El Paso, 1,097 residential homes have been found with lead contamination exceeding 500 ppm and arsenic contamination exceeding 46 ppm. In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated Asarco as the "potential responsible party" for the contamination. As of January 11, 2006, the EPA has cleaned 705 of these properties, leaving 392 contaminated.

Despite the remaining threat to the health and welfare of our community, Asarco is moving forward aggressively to re-open its over 100-year-old smelter. 

According to Asarco's permit application, Asarco's re-opened smelter will emit nearly 7,000 tons of pollutants into El Paso's skies every year.  The pollutants include 7.69 tons of lead, 230.04 tons of oxides of nitrogen, 287.68 tons of carbon monoxide, 7.66 tons of volatile organic compounds, 6,673.15 tons of sulfur dioxide and 16.21 tons of sulfuric acid.

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