The more we learn about the Mississippi Phosphates Co. fiasco, the more we’re convinced we have to find a better way of dealing with polluters.
Once again, a company has made untold millions over the years, then left a toxic mess for taxpayers to clean up.
Taxpayers should be indignant.
Here’s what MPC once said on its website: “The company and its employees are committed to awareness of and adherence to federal, state and local environmental laws, regulations, company policies and procedures. It is the policy of the company to minimize the environmental, health and safety risks to its employees and the community in which it operates.”
Empty words, we know now. Where were the elected officials we entrusted with holding the company to its word?
There were plenty of warning signs. The most troublesome byproduct of the plant that made diammonium phosphate fertilizer is industrial gypsum, which has been known for decades to have radioactive properties. And still, our leaders allowed the company to store two mountains of gypsum, which creates acidic wastewater every time rainwater hits them.
By 2014, the company was bankrupt, leaving behind the hazardous mountains and an acidic lake of 700 million gallons of wastewater that was growing by 9 million gallons with every inch of rainfall. In Pascagoula, by the way, the average annual rainfall is 65 inches.
In 2015, MPC pleaded guilty to a single violation of the Clean Water Act. A single violation. Out of hundreds alleged by the EPA since 2000.
When it filed for bankruptcy, it agreed to assist in paying for an estimated $120 million cleanup of the site and transfer 320 acres to the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
We now know that assistance amounted to $12 million, and early this year we got the bad news: The $12 million was gone, spent by the Environmental Trust set up by MPC to stem the damage.
So now, the EPA and the state’s taxpayers have taken control of the site, and its $1 million per month cost. The EPA is hoping someone will buy the plant.
Consider what a former CFO said about the plant before it went belly-up. This is from his LinkedIn page: “I was hired as a CFO to transition into the CEO role at some time, however the condition of the factory was such that it was too far gone and no longer functional.”
The people most responsible, those who profited from the company and the public officials who allowed them to do it then walk away from their responsibilities, are gone.
We urge current public officials to better vet the next company that comes knocking on their doors with promises of jobs and economic development. They should make sure the company has the wherewithal to deal with any environmental havoc it creates and that wherewithal is out of the reach of anyone but the cleanup crew.
The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.