(CN) - The U.S. government has settled a bankrupt Getty Petroleum's share of a castastrophic, decades-long oil spill in Brooklyn and Queens that dumped between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil and petroleum products into the soil around Greenpoint, N.Y., the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.
The settlement comes three years after Getty Petroleum Marketing, Inc. and Getty Terminals Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection. Getty operated oil production and storage facilities along Newtown Creek - one of dozens of oil companies to do so throughout the last century.
In 1978, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on a routine patrol discovered a plume of oil spilling into the creek. Subsequent studies found petroleum contaminating the soil in a 50-acre radius of the spill, and cleanup efforts began in earnest in the 1990s.
EPA has estimated the spill at 30 million gallons, nearly three times the amount of oil dumped in the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
The area is now an EPA Superfund cleanup site, which allowed the federal government to go after Getty and other oil companies for their role in the environmental disaster.
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, called Getty's role in the spill "a sad legacy."
"For more than a century, irresponsible industrial activities turned Newtown Creek into a tributary of toxic waste," Bharara said in a statement. "Today's settlement ensures that Getty takes responsibility for its contribution to that sad legacy, and pays a fair share of clean-up costs at the site. This office is committed to holding those who contaminate our nation's lands and waterways accountable for their actions, and bankruptcy is not a free pass for polluters."
EPA regional administrator Judith Enck touted the Superfund law, which guarantees that gross polluters - and not U.S. taxpayers - foot the bill for these massive cleanup efforts.
"The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers," Enck said. "Getty's decades of irresponsibility and indifference to the environment could pose significant environmental risks to Newtown Creek communities and must be addressed."
In the settlement agreement filed in bankruptcy court Tuesday, Getty's bankruptcy trustee acknowledged the company's roll in the Newtown Creek fiasco and admitted to another spill in October 2005.
The U.S. government will receive a $14.8 million claim to recoup the EPA's cleanup costs, and another $1.16 million for the Interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for damage to natural resources and assessment costs.
But the final amount of Getty's payout will be determined by the bankruptcy court, the Justice Department said. The settlement agreement will also be open for public comment for 30 days before submitting it to the court for final approval.
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