From Amigos Bravos, a CCW member organization. Image: Santa Rita copper mine, outside of Silver City, NM – courtesy of Mzuriana
SANTA FE, NM- The New Mexico Supreme Court has granted the petition filed by our legal council, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), requesting review of the Copper Rule. The Copper Rule regulates discharges from copper mines in New Mexico. The Supreme Court order, dated June 13th, states that it will review all the issues raised in the petition.
“We are gratified that the State Supreme Court will review the challenges to the Copper Rule,” says Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC Executive Director. “This is a very important issue for New Mexico because of our reliance on ground water, and allowing an entire industry such as the copper mining industry to pollute ground water makes no sense. Our clients are not trying to stop copper mining; they are trying to ensure that copper mining does not pollute ground water.”
The Copper Rule has been the subject of controversy since its adoption in 2013. In 2015 the Court of Appeals upheld the adoption of the Rule. 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. The Supreme Court has granted the petitions filed by all parties and has ordered a review of all issues raised.
“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 Allyson Siwik, GRIP Executive Director. “This is a precedent setting case and the New Mexico Supreme Court needs to restore the integrity of our Water Quality Act so that it protects groundwater for all of us.”
“Thirty years before the copper rule was adopted, the copper mining industry demonstrated that it could exist subject to the same ground water protection requirements that apply to other industries. The Copper Rule violates the State Water Quality Act’s mandate that ground water be protected. We hope that the Supreme Court will agree with us,” says Meiklejohn.
The Supreme Court order states a briefing schedule, if any, will follow.
Doug Meiklejohn, NM Environmental Law Center, 505.989.9022
Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project, 575.590.7619
Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575.758.3874
At a hearing on January 8th 2014, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) – a state decision-making entity responsible for protecting New Mexico’s water – voted down a Motion to Stay the Copper Rule. In September 2013, the WQCC adopted the Copper Rule, which would allow contamination of groundwater beneath copper mine sites in New Mexico. The stay would have prevented the new Rule from being used by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) in copper mine permitting decisions while the Copper Rule is under appeal in the NM Court of Appeals. For more details, click here to see the Press Release.
On October 10th, 2013, an appeal of the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission’s (WQCC) adoption of copper mining groundwater regulations was filed by Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP) and Turner Ranch Properties, L.P., represented by New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), and Amigos Bravos represented by High Desert Energy + Environment Law Partners. The groups are challenging the adopted copper mining rules because they expressly allow water pollution rather than prevent it. Proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department and the global copper mining company, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, the rules mark the first time in 36 years that the WQCC has set aside its mandate to protect the quality of the state’s scarce groundwater resources. For more information on this development, please see the Press Release.
On September 10, 2013, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) voted 9-1 to adopt the proposed water quality rules for the copper mining industry. Click here for the press release with more information. After an 8-month stakeholder process to develop a draft rule that would be protective of groundwater at copper mine sites and provide regulatory certainty to industry, NMED upper-level managers ignored the recommendations of their technical staff and NMED Advisory Committee and rewrote the proposed rule. Despite all of the scientific evidence we submitted, and a huge public outcry in favor of protecting New Mexico’s precious drinking water, we did not expect a favorable decision by the WQCC, which is composed of Governor Martinez appointees.
Amigos Bravos represented by High Desert Energy + Environment Law Partners, oppose the adopted rules on grounds that they violate the protections afforded under the Water Quality Act. Therefore, we the parties appeal the decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals along with Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP) and Turner Enterprises represented by New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC).
The adopted rules:
- Give the mining industry the right to pollute.
- Are in direct conflict with the State Water Quality Act that requires polluters to prevent groundwater contamination during their operations.
- Give the mining industry the right to pollute future drinking water supplies and impact the health of people and communities.
- Could pave the way for other polluters to demand similar rollbacks in water quality safeguards. This would lower the cost of doing business for the polluter while transferring the cost of clean up and the cost to address public health outcomes to New Mexico taxpayers.