Environmental Regulation, Groundwater, Mining, New Mexico Environment Department

Governor Martinez Continues Her Assault on Environmental Protection in New Mexico, An Update

By DAVID CORREIA

Last week, Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP), Turner Ranch Properties (TRP) and Amigos Bravos appealed the September 10 vote of New Mexico’s Water Quality Control Commission to repeal existing copper mining regulations in New Mexico. New Mexico Attorney General Gary King filed a separate appeal. As La Jicarita reported earlier this month, the new rule makes copper mining an activity exempt from environmental regulation at the site of extraction. The rule removes any and all obligations on the part of transnational mining conglomerate Freeport-McMoRan, which mines copper in New Mexico, to meet any water quality standards within the area of open-pit hydrologic containment, beneath leach stock piles and waste rock piles, or around tailings impoundments.

The repeal of the copper mining rule came after appointees of Governor Susana Martinez had already reduced regulations governing the handling of wastes in the oil and gas industry and dairy industry. In 2005 the Oil Conservation Division found that more than 7,000 oil and gas pits in New Mexico—the ponds that hold the chemical waste slurry of oil and gas extraction—were leaking into groundwater. As a result the state developed a new pit rule that banned entirely the use of open, unlined pits. The Martinez oil and gas pit rule and dairy pit rule repealed these changes and permit the continued practice of unlined pits.

New Mexico Tech Geologist Doug Bland, who cast the only dissenting vote in the 9-1 decision to gut the copper pit rule, resigned from the Water Quality Commission this month. In response to the resignation, Bruce Frederick, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center who represents TRP and GRIP in the appeal told the press, “I think the Martinez administration cannot tolerate dissent of any kind and he was removed.”

A view of the Clod Buster humate mine near Cuba in 1974. Despite the fact that the New Mexico Environment Department cited Clod Buster for groundwater pollution in 1999, the new humate mining regulation would make this strip mine exempt from environmental regulation. Source: NMGS

A view of the Clod Buster humate mine near Cuba in 1974. Despite the fact that the New Mexico Environment Department cited Clod Buster for groundwater pollution in 1999, the new humate mining regulation would make this strip mine exempt from environmental regulation. Source: NMGS

And the attack on environmental regulation by Martinez appointees continues. The week after the copper pit rule, the New Mexico Mining Commission voted to make it easier for humate mines to operate in New Mexico without comprehensive environmental review. Humate is the acid-rich, partly coalified shale or claystone found in association with coal deposits. It is used as a commercial soil conditioner. When coal is strip mined, the “underclay” found beneath coal deposits often contains usable humate-rich soils. Humate is particularly common in northwest New Mexico where coal mining and humate mining have gone hand in hand since the 1960s. The New Mexico Geologic Survey estimates that the coal-bearing region of northwest New Mexico likely contains billions of tons of humate.

Mineris Vitae LLC, the humate mining firm that requested the new rule, previously has been cited for operating a humate mine beyond its allowable size. The new rule change allows humate mines to disturb twice as many acres at a time without any environmental review.

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About lajicarita

La Jicarita is a community journal that advocates for land based communities and sustainable use of public land resources in northern New Mexico. http://www.lajicaritanews.org

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Governor Martinez Continues Her Assault on Environmental Protection in New Mexico, An Update

  1. Gov. Martinez is an accomplice in the destruction and pollution of this great state…..what a shame

    Posted by Adrian Cisneros | October 24, 2013, 8:38 am
  2. David,

    I do like your site, but I am a little concerned with this particular article misrepresenting — unintentionally, I am sure — the facts on what Humate actually is and what about what the new Humate rule actually did. I know you are not a geologist, so, for everyone’s benefit, I’d like to take a few minutes to clarify what Humate actually is, what Humate mining is like, and why I think everyone should encourage the use of Humates (as opposed to Nitrogen-based fertilizers) in farming.

    “What is Humate?”

    The word “humate” comes from the latin “humus” meaning “for or of the earth.” You may be interested to know that the words “human” and “humility” come from the same root (ironically, it is the lack of our humility that resulted in the destructive farming practices of the past century). “Humus” is an organic substance in the soil, rich in humic and fulvic acids, that is the storage system for three incredibly important components: carbon, water, and minerals. Humate can be thought of as highly concentrated and effective form of humus — or, if you prefer — as really, really old, prehistoric compost that never got turned into coal.

    “Isn’t that stuff rich in acids that are bad for Human and Environmental health?”

    No; in fact, the opposite is true. There is a study out there somewhere that posits that the food that we eat now has only 1/3 of the nutrition that our ancestors enjoyed in the early 20th century. The reason? A decline in humic and fulvic acid content in the soil, the erosion of the carbon in the soil, and the destruction of the soil matrix for storing important minerals. We literally are what we eat, and what we eat comes from the soil. Adding humates to the soil has been proven to restore soil health. So, is this stuff bad for you? No. In fact, have you ever heard of the saying “gotta eat a speck of dirt?” Well, you can even eat humates — they have natural anti-viral properties and have been shown to increase life expectancy when consumed by animals. (For more information, check out this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q1VnwcpW7E. He starts talking about humic concentrates at around the 13 minute mark of the video).

    “Is Humate a mineral?”

    No. Humate is a very old, organic substance containing carbon and natural fertilizing agents. Similarly, dried compost and peat moss would also not be considered minerals.

    “Isn’t Humate strip-mined? Isn’t strip-mining bad?”

    Well, if you call digging a 10-20 foot ditch using track hoe excavators and similar equipment “strip-mining,” then yes, I suppose that is the case. In fact, road cuts go deeper and disturb more land than typical Humate extraction sites do. Humate does not sit under coal deposits — it sits on top of them at depths of between 10 and 20 feet below ground. Remember, Humate is essentially prehistoric dead matter that was never under sufficient heat or pressure to form into coal…

    A Humate “mine” can consist of essentially three people with a tractor who can easily dig their 20-foot ditch, extract the Humate layer, put the soil back on top, and plant new grass over the site — all in a period of just a couple of months. Sure, it doesn’t look pretty while the excavation is going on, but it’s hardly a long-term “strip mine” in the sense most people think about those.

    “What are Humates good for?”

    Lots of stuff — particularly in agriculture. When farmers use humates, they get more and better crops and have to use less chemical fertilizer to achieve the harvest. Fact: chemical fertilizers pollute groundwater, while humates don’t. So, put simply, humate use in agriculture reduces groundwater pollution that comes from the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Humates also save TONS of water by making the soils more porous so they retain water better. To put things in perspective, even one of those little 10-acre humate mines could produce enough humate (during the 6 or so months during which it actually operates) to conserve enough water to irrigate the ENTIRE Chili Crop of New Mexico over the course of an ENTIRE year…. several times over. Pretty cool, yes? You can tell I really like it when farmers use more humates and not the chemical stuff.

    “What’s the deal with the Clod Buster mine?”

    Hell if I know. That mine was opened way before the Mining Act regulations even existed (read ’74), and has been pretty much abandoned and in-operational for most of the time between then and now. I can tell you the pollution probably came from off-site when some idiot had the bright idea of mixing chemicals there. You don’t really need chemicals to dig a 20-foot ditch; humate is not really like mining copper, where you need to dig a mile deep pit and use acidic leaching solutions on rocks.

    “Is it true that humate mines do not have any environmental review?”

    That’s false. In fact, ALL mines in New Mexico have environmental review of some kind — but obviously, some have more environmental review than others. I can see that Humate mines have to go through less review than copper mines, for example — but remember, the Humate operations involve 20 foot deep holes that last for 6 months as opposed to mile deep holes that last for hundreds of years.

    ***

    Well, that felt good to clarify… Other than the above points, I think your article is fairly accurate. Keep up the good work!

    Cheers,

    Alex

    Posted by Alexander Earlheart | February 28, 2014, 12:21 pm
    • Alex,
      Thanks for the clarification. As I explain in the story, the issue with humate mining has everything to do with the size of operations–the strip mining part. It is precisely the problems that come with large operations such as those operated by Mineris Vitae LLC that should be of concern. Also, one fact regarding humate mining in New Mexico by the NM Geologic survey has to do with its association with coal deposits. In other words, while it’s true, as you write, that humate operations can take the form of a small operation with little environmental impact, the economically valuable operations are those made possible by the strip mining that goes along with coal mining. This is the issue raised by Mineris Vitae.

      Posted by lajicarita | February 28, 2014, 2:44 pm

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