WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department announced the biggest environmental cash settlement in history Thursday, securing a $5.15 billion deal with Anadarko Petroleum to clean up dozens of sites across the country and compensate several thousand people living with the effects of the contamination.
The agreement resolves claims stemming from the toxic legacy of one of the oil firm's subsidiaries, Kerr-McGee, which operated a range of U.S. chemical, energy and manufacturing businesses over 85 years.
At a news conference, Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney of the Southern District of New York, said Kerr-McGee, which Anadarko acquired in 2006, left a trail of pollution in its wake and tried to evade responsibility by forcing U.S. taxpayers to pay for its actions.
The agreement grew out of a lawsuit against Tronox, a paint materials manufacturer and unit of Kerr-McGee that was spun off in 2005 and later went bankrupt.
"Kerr-McGee's businesses all over this country left significant, lasting environmental damage in their wake," said Deputy Attorney General James Cole. "It tried to shed its responsibility for this environmental damage and stick the United States taxpayers with the huge cleanup bill."
The stretch of Kerr-McGee's operations over nearly a century was vast, Justice Department officials said, encompassing everything from wood treatment to rocket fuel processing. Its perchlorate business contaminated Lake Mead, a major source of drinking water for the Southwest; its uranium mining operations left radioactive waste piles throughout Navajo Nation territory.
The litigation trust that reached the agreement with Anadarko represented the federal government, 11 states, the Navajo Nation, trusts for individual plaintiffs and some environmental response trusts.
"If you are responsible for 85 years of poisoning the Earth, then you are responsible for cleaning it up," Mr. Bharara said.