October 8th, 2010
03:04 PM GMT
Within day of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill the question of who would pay for the clean up was clear - BP was legally responsible and said it would honor that commitment.
The same scenario seems to be the case in Hungary.
The firm, MAL Hungarian Aluminium appears to be liable for the clean up costs of the red sludge.
That's according to the European Commission. Environment spokesman Joe Hennon tells me that under normal EU laws, the operator "should be liable." He says MAL received a permit to operate the plant in 2006 and all the paperwork, on first glance, appears to be in order.
I could not reach the company to get a response. To be fair, the plant has been closed for the week and so no one is answering the phone.
MAL's website does have a statement apologizing to those who have been affected by this. It has also said that it will pay for funerals.
MAL's insurance company, Allianz Hungaria Biztosíto has been authorized to tell the media that MAL has an up to date insurance policy for "property and liability."
But spokespeople for Allianz say they don't have permission to reveal how much that insurance is for. The question many of us then had was what role would or could the EU play in this and is there a pot of money Hungary could tap into?
There is something called the "EU Civil Protection Mechanism" which coordinates disaster response among 31 European countries. It was used during last year's forest fires in central Europe but also tapped for things like the Haiti earthquake.
The 31 countries have been contacted, says the EU and those experts should be found quickly.
But the EU does not respond unless asked by the inflicted country. Hungary has now triggered the mechanism and has asked for a few experts in "handling toxic sludge, decontamination and mitigation of environmental damage."
It's not yet clear to me who pays for them and for any other use of the mechanism Hungary may require.
The Hungarian government said earlier this week the costs will be in the "tens of millions of dollars" but there will be homes that have to be knocked down, owners compensated and relocated. Then there are the health costs and any fines coming down the pipe.
The EU says Hungary should recover its costs from the company. We are a long way from knowing that bill.
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