When General Motors Co. emerged from bankruptcy, it was freed of obligations for polluted properties at discarded plant sites that will require millions of dollars to clean up.
GM's unusual, government-engineered bankruptcy allowed the Detroit automaker to emerge as a new company — and to shed billions in liabilities, including claims that governments had against GM for polluting.
Environmental liabilities estimated at $530 million were left with the old GM, which has only $1.2 billion to wind down.
Administrative fees and other claims will soak up that money, and state and local officials told the Free Press they fear the cleanups will be shortchanged.
In Flint, uncertainty over cleaning up Buick City threatens a three-year redevelopment effort. "We can't lose this opportunity to create more jobs," said Tim Herman, chief executive officer of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The State of New York is concerned about 12 GM sites, including a 270-acre site along the St. Lawrence River that possesses a "significant threat to human health." Sites in Ohio, Delaware, Indiana and Colorado also have raised concerns.
GM said the issue rested with Motors Liquidation Co. — what's left of the old GM — which declined to comment
Companies have gone bankrupt before, leaving behind expensive messes, but the size of the environmental liabilities shed by GM is extraordinary, said John Pottow, an expert in bankruptcy law at the University of Michigan.