Asarco Update: Smokestacks be Closed!

The people of El Paso learned yesterday that Asarco will not be reopening its copper plant from its previous ten years of dormancy. The company had controversially obtained an air permit from the Texas Commission on Enviromental Quality almost a year ago and seemingly seemed poised to resume operations in the big border city of Texas. The official announcement from Asarco, which has held a presence in El Paso since 1887, claimed that the global financial crisis or what they term in corporate speak as a “downturn” ultimately prompted their decision.

Interestingly enough, however, the very same day as their pronouncement, the Environmental Protection Agency released letters to Asarco and the TCEQ stating that the copper smelter’s equipment was not up to par and would have to be replaced in order to comply with federal standards. If they failed to do so, then the El Paso plant would have faced violations in a Title V review which could have resulted in an order to halt operations. In other words, prior to the letters, Asarco was poised to do what it has always done; pollute the city outside of proper regulations.

A text message greeted me this morning jubilantly about the news of the people’s victory over Asarco. Indeed there is time to celebrate! But as always, there are other victories to march towards and in Asarco’s case, this is not the end! A series of quotes in the Newspaper Tree included the following:

Bill Addington, environmental justice chair and border issues chair of the Rio Grande Sierra Club chapter

“The Sierra Club and of course me having worked on it as an affected party in the contested case hearing process … we’re definitely pleased Asarco will not open again.”

“However, we’re very concerned and always have been about the existing contamination, whether Asarco is closed or not. We certainly don’t want them to pave over the problem of the existing contamination, which will affect the people of El Paso and Juarez for years to come.”

“We don’t want them to simply demolish the structures on the property, and we want full disclosure for the people of El Paso of what is there on the property and in the surrounding area.”

The full truth about Asarco is still not known and the people deserve otherwise! Much of what the copper smelter has done to the city of El Paso throughout its past has been documented but the picture is still incomplete without this information.

In the meantime, to learn more about Asarco’s history and the grassroots activism last year that challenged its efforts to reopen, refer to my article “Helter Smelter,” which appeared last year in Zmagazine:

http://www.zmag.org/zmag/viewArticle/17518

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