Goodbye, Asarco – yet your presence lingers

February 4th, 2009

We heard it on the Texas Observer blog first: the Asarco copper smelter is closed for good and it isn’t coming back!

Asarco has been polluting El Paso for generations, making kids sick and leaving a horrible mess behind.

Yesterday it was announced in the El Paso Times: “Asarco LLC has informed the Texas Commission on Environmental that it does not plan to reopen its copper smelter in El Paso, company officials announced Tuesday….The decision is based on the dramatic downturn of the world economy in the last six months….”

The Observer goes on to say that Asarco leaves behind a site extremely contaminated and which will have to be remediated at great cost. Yet an editorial in today’s El Paso Times commends Asarco for promises it has made to help clean up the site. Quoting an Asarco honcho, the editorial includes: ” … We also want to assure the community that we’re working to ensure
that our property is left in a condition that will be an asset to a great community that we have.”
Let’s hold Asarco to that assurance.

Today, though, we should celebrate: Asarco is dead!

Tomorrow, Texans should begin to confront the issues related to cleaning the place up, an effort the Sierra Club says could cost more than $100 million.

For far too long, Asarco has been not just a blight but an actual hazard to public health in El Paso. The closing is tremendous good news for El Paso. The lack of a giant smelter belching carcinogens near downtown will create opportunities for dramatic improvements to one of Texas’ largest cities. Here’s hoping that El Paso can use the closing to help stimulate all kinds of sustainable economic growth.

Notably, Asarco says the nail in the coffin was the economic downturn. Years of work by environmental activists, community leaders and public officials couldn’t slay the bear; it took an economic crisis. With real leadership – such as that of El Paso’s Senator Eliot Shapleigh and newly elected State Rep Joe Moody – and with proper stimulus, in a few years El Paso could have a real community asset instead – one which creates real jobs, contributes to the community and builds a stronger metropolis at the critically important Texas-Mexico-New Mexico border.