By Julian Pecquet - 07/19/12 07:55 PM EDT
A Republican-controlled House panel on Thursday took the highly unusual step of slamming a U.S. company's environmental and trade practices abroad.
The Foreign Affairs Committee's human-rights panel held a hearing on the mining practices of Doe Run Peru, which is accused of running smelting operations that have caused massive environmental contamination. The company is a unit of the holding company Renco Group, whose billionaire CEO Ira Rennert is a longtime Republican donor who contributed more than $50,000 to House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)'s reelection this year.
Doe Run Peru acquired smelting operations in the central Peruvian city of La Oroya from the government in 1997, but the smelter was shuttered in 2009 following a protracted battle with the government over clean-up efforts, Reuters reports.
In calling the hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said its purpose would be to examine “U.S. policy in enforcing the provisions of Free Trade Agreements, especially the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as specifically regards observance of health and environment laws by a U.S. company operating under this agreement.” The United States signed its FTA with Peru in 2006, and it went into force in 2009.
“This is a matter of grave concern, not just to the citizens and residents of La Oroya and of Peru, but of the world and, in particular, the United States,” testified Peruvian archbishop Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, who says he has received death threats for his vocal opposition to Doe Run's operations. “Doe Run Peru is a subsidiary of Renco International, a privately held entity owned and operated by United States citizens. The operation of the smelter, and the environmental and health degradation it has caused, reflects on the good name and reputation of the United States.”
Doe Run Peru did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Renco says on its website that it operates under a "decentralized business model" that consists of "partnering with existing business owners and successful management teams while providing capital support."