Water Protection Groups Challenge Copper Mine Decision

CONTACT:
Douglas Meiklejohn, NM Environmental Law Center
505-989-9022, ext 14 | dmeiklejohn@nmelc.org
Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project
575-590-7619 | allysonsiwik@gmail.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Friday, May 8, 2015

WATER PROTECTION GROUPS CHALLENGE RULING THAT ALLOWS ALL COPPER MINES

TO POLLUTE GROUNDWATER

SANTA FE, N.M.- Today, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) filed a petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court seeking reversal of the Court of Appeals’ Opinion upholding the validity of the Copper Rule, which regulates discharges from copper mines. The petition asks the Supreme Court to take up a number of questions including: Does the Copper Rule violate the New Mexico Water Quality Act by permitting water pollution rather than preventing or abating it?

“This is a vital issue we are presenting to the Supreme Court,” says Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC Executive Director. “The Rule allows copper mines to pollute groundwater at any copper mine in New Mexico. If the Copper Rule stands, what’s to keep other operations like industrial dairies, uranium mines and Los Alamos National Laboratory from getting the same thing?”

The NMELC represents Gila Resources Information Project (“GRIP”), Turner Ranch Properties, L.P., and Amigos Bravos in opposition to the Court of Appeals decision. The State Attorney General and a former State Groundwater Bureau Chief have also filed petitions with the Supreme Court.

“Groundwater in our state belongs to all New Mexicans and is protected under the Water Quality Act for our communities and for future generations,” says Allyson Siwik, GRIP Executive Director. “The Copper Rule illegally allows thousands of acre-feet of groundwater under Grant County mines to be contaminated for the sole profit of mining giants like Freeport-McRoRan and its shareholders. This is unconscionable.”

Freeport-McMoRan, Inc. – FCX (NYSE) is the largest publicly traded copper company in the world and owns copper mines in New Mexico, outside of Silver City.

“As communities throughout the state are confronted by the critical impacts of long-term drought, it is irresponsible to allow mining companies to pollute our precious groundwater that is needed by everyone,” says Siwik. “The New Mexico Supreme Court needs to restore the integrity of our Water Quality Act so that it protects groundwater for all of us.”

Approximately 20,000 acres of groundwater contamination from unlined mine units has already been documented at Freeport’s three existing open pit sulfide copper mines in southern New Mexico.

NMELC Copper Rule case page.

BACKGROUND

* In 2009, the New Mexico Legislature mandated the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) to specify water discharge regulations for the dairy and copper mining industries that would prevent water pollution and protect water quality.

* In 2012, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) put together an advisory committee that included members from the copper mining company Freeport-McMoRan, environmental groups and technical experts to craft the new copper rule to present to the WQCC. The advisory committee met for eight months and in mid-August a draft rule was sent to NMED.

* At Freeport’s request, the NMED’s upper management overruled the recommendations of the advisory committee, including recommendations of its own technical staff, and incorporated language that would allow Freeport (and other copper mine operators) to routinely pollute groundwater with acid rock drainage, metals and other contaminants in the course of its mining operations.

* In April 2013, the NMED presented its draft water quality rule for copper mines before the WQCC. The NMELC and its clients opposed the rules on grounds that they are illegal under the Water Quality Act. NMED’s own technical staff involved in the copper rules development process did not attend the hearing to support the draft rule.

* The WQCC voted 9 – 1 in September 2013 to approve the draft copper rule with little deliberation. In making its decision, the commission adopted, with one small non-substantive change, the Proposed Statement of Reasons submitted by NMED with substantial help from Freeport-McMoRan.

* October 8, 2013 the NMELC filed a Notice of Appeal in New Mexico Court of Appeals for clients.

* On April 8, 2015 the Court of Appeals upheld the WQCC’s adoption of the Copper Rule.

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Gila Resources Information Project

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Silver City, NM 88061

phone/fax 575.538.8078
email: grip at gilaresources.info

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