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WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior announced today that Freeport-McMoRan Corporation and Freeport-McMoRan Morenci Inc. (Freeport-McMoRan) have agreed to pay $6.8 million to settle federal and state natural resource damages claims related to the Morenci copper mine in southeastern Arizona.
The complaint, which was filed jointly by the United States and the state of Arizona on April 24, 2012, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, alleges that Freeport-McMoRan is civilly liable for injuries to natural resources that resulted from hazardous substance releases at and from Freeport-McMoRan’s Morenci Mine site. The complaint further alleges that surface waters, terrestrial habitat and wildlife, and migratory birds have been injured, destroyed or lost as a result of releases of hazardous substances at and from the mine site. The hazardous substances that have been released include sulfuric acid and metals. The cause of action for natural resource damages is based on Section 107(a) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, as amended (CERCLA). Historically, the Morenci Mine was owned and operated by Phelps Dodge Corporation until that company was acquired by Freeport-McMoRan entities in 2007.
Under the consent decree lodged today in federal court, Freeport-McMoRan will pay $6.8 million to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Fund. This money will be used by the federal and state natural resources trustees to plan and implement projects designed to restore, replace or acquire the equivalent of wildlife and wildlife habitat in the vicinity of the impacted area. Of this amount, $98,000 is designated for payment to the Department of the Interior for its remaining unpaid past damage assessment costs. Freeport-McMoran has already repaid over $842,000 in injury assessment costs.
“Today’s settlement will help compensate the people of Arizona for the loss of habitat and wildlife, and the injuries to the overall quality of the local environment caused by open-pit mining at the Morenci Mine,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement also fosters federal and state efforts to restore and protect important wildlife habitat in injured areas.”
“Mining has long been, and continues to be, an important part of Arizona’s history and economy,” said Ann Birmingham Scheel, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona. “Likewise, protecting Arizona’s environment has long been, and continues to be, a priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice. This settlement strikes a balance between mining and protecting the environment and will allow the natural resources trustees to focus on restoration efforts rather than on litigation.”
The designated natural resources trustees for the Morenci Mine area include the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the Trustee for Natural Resources for the State of Arizona.
This is the second settlement with Freeport-McMoRan Corporation and its mining subsidiaries in as many months. On Feb. 21, 2012, the federal district court in New Mexico approved a consent decree between the United States, the state of New Mexico and Freeport-McMoRan entities that resolved natural resource damages claims at three Freeport-McMoRan mining sites in southwestern New Mexico.
The proposed consent decree, lodged in the District of Arizona, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the consent decree is available at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.