Reyes Comments on "Troubling" Asarco Info in GAO Report
by NPT Staff
Posted on November 13, 2007
U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes' statement on GAO report follows. Please follow the link at bottom of the story for the complete report:
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, released the following statement regarding today’s release of a report (attached) he had requested be completed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report, entitled "Hazardous Waste: Information on How DOD and Federal and State Regulators Oversee the Off-Site Disposal of Waste from DOD Installations," includes a review of hazardous waste disposal activities conducted by Asarco and described by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "illegal."
“While the GAO report does not make any new conclusions regarding Asarco's behavior, the report does shed light on Asarco misconduct associated with the company's and its subsidiary Encycle's disposal of hazardous waste from the Rocky Mountain Flats Arsenal. Above all, the report confirms what many in El Paso and I have been saying, that Asarco has not been committed to the health and well-being of the El Paso community and is not responsible enough to merit a renewal of its permit.
“The report makes clear that the hazardous waste disposed of by Asarco originated in the Basin F evaporation pond at Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado. The installation was initially used to manufacture chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, and then later leased to the Shell Chemical Company for the production of agricultural chemicals including pesticides. Basin F was created for the disposal of wastewaters from manufacturing and wastes from demilitarization activity. The pond was in operation for 22 years and was at times filled to its 240 million gallon capacity. When the basin was closed in 1988 it contained 11 million gallons of wastewater contaminated with pesticides and metals such as copper, arsenic, and zinc.
“The report references the Asarco violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which occurred when Asarco failed to manage the military materials as hazardous waste. As outlined in the report, the hazardous waste was shipped to El Paso without a required RCRA hazardous waste manifest, Asarco stored the hazardous waste without a permit, and Asarco disposed of the hazardous waste in its industrial furnace without a permit.
“By misrepresenting its disposal activities at the El Paso smelter as ‘recycling,’ Asarco skirted public disclosure requirements that would have been required if Asarco had attempted to acquire permits for its El Paso hazardous waste disposal activities.
“According to the RCRA statute, before the issuance of a RCRA permit, the EPA would have to ‘cause to be published in major local newspapers of general circulation and broadcast over local radio stations notice of the agency’s intention to issue such permit,’ and provide written notice of EPA’s ‘intention to issue such permit to each unit of local government having jurisdiction over the area in which such facility is proposed to be located’ and to relevant state agencies. If there was opposition to such a permit, there would have had to be a public hearing on the matter here in El Paso. If Asarco had not engaged in what the EPA termed ‘sham recycling,’ its operations would have been subject to the light of public scrutiny and criticism.
“Instead of pursuing a permit, which would have required public disclosure of hazardous waste disposal activities, Asarco misused the RCRA recycling exemption and was able to hide its activities from El Pasoans. EPA subsequently forced Asarco into a consent decree, and Asarco paid out millions of dollars on the condition that details of its activities would not be released to the public.
“However, due to a bureaucratic error at EPA, the consent decree was released. This draft report indicates that there are deficiencies with EPA’s approach to informing communities about its enforcement of environmental laws. While consent decrees can be a valuable tool for federal agencies to address wrongdoing by polluters without risking potential inaction by the courts, a community’s right to know about the disposal of hazardous materials in their back yard needs to be a very high priority. The EPA should be more proactive in informing citizens about companies in their community against which the agency is taking enforcement action.”
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