62 state lawmakers join Rooney urging VP Pence to get Argentine company to pay for $1.3 billion Passaic River cleanup

Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney is asking Vice President Michael Pence and President Mauricio Macri of Argentina to work together to urge Argentinian oil company YPF SA to honor its Superfund obligation to remediate the Passaic River.

Rooney sent separate letters to Pence and Macri, which were signed by 62 additional Republican and Democrat state legislators, including Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, Senate President Steve Sweeney and other Democrat leaders.

In a letter to Pence, who wraps up a two-day visit to Argentina today, Rooney asked Pence to “engage President Marci on the Superfund obligations of YPF SA,” noting that the Argentinian government has majority ownership of the company.

“In disavowing any responsibility for the Superfund site, YPF is attempting to shift the burden onto the U.S. government and the taxpayers of New Jersey,” wrote Rooney (R-Bergen). “This move sets a dangerous precedent for businesses aiming to use bankruptcy to manipulate their balance sheets.”

In Rooney’s letter to Macri, he commended Macri’s efforts to lead Argentina in a new direction and urged him to do the same regarding YPF’s environmental obligations. Rooney wrote that the Argentine government “has an opportunity to confirm its credibility on an international stage while rebuilding its international investment relations.

“By accepting responsibility, Argentina will demonstrate true dedication to reform, which will in turn promote growth with other nations resulting in a positive impact on recent economic advancements,” he continued.

For several decades, the Diamond Alkali Company (now Texas-based Maxus Energy Corp.) owned and operated a facility in Newark, along the Passaic River, that manufactured agricultural chemicals, including the Vietnam War-era chemical Agent Orange.

In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency and the DEP found high levels of dioxin at the Diamond Alkali site and in the Passaic River.  A year later, the EPA placed the site on the Superfund national priorities list, beginning a decades-long effort to clean up the site and ensure the cooperation of responsible parties.

Last June, Maxus, a subsidiary of YPF SA, a corporation owned by Argentina, filed for bankruptcy protection. Maxus sought federal protection just three months after the EPA announced a $1.38 billion cleanup plan for the Passaic River Superfund site owned by the company.

In May, Rooney introduced legislation, A4814, prohibiting the state from investing public retirement funds in any business that avoids paying Superfund obligations to the state. He also sponsors resolutions AR250, urging the Argentinian government to fulfill its superfund obligations for the Passaic River, and AR219,which urges state and federal agencies to investigate Maxus Energy’s actions. AR219 unanimously passed in both houses of the Legislature earlier this year.

“Companies, like Maxus, should understand we are going to hold them accountable,” said Rooney. “If they try to shirk their responsibilities to taxpayers through bankruptcy, they will pay a price, and that will include the loss of investment from the state’s sizeable pension funds. The state and federal government should be using all the tools in their arsenal to ensure that the river cleanup is financed by those responsible for the contamination, not taxpayers.”