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

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

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 The Martinez oil and gas pit rule and dairy pit rule repealed these changes and permit the continued practice of unlined pits.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.