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Court refuses to postpone copper mine regulations

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The New Mexico Court of Appeals on Friday rejected efforts by the state attorney general, environmentalists and a ranch owned by billionaire mogul Ted Turner to put on hold regulations that govern groundwater pollution by copper mines.

Attorney General Gary King, the Gila Resources Information Project, Amigos Bravos and Turner Ranch Properties filed an appeal last fall to challenge the new regulations. They sought a stay earlier this year to put the rules on hold while the appeal is heard.

The court said in a two-page ruling that King and the others failed to show irreparable harm would be caused if the copper rules were enacted while the appeal is pending. The court also questioned the appellants’ likelihood of success on the merits of the case, but noted that it’s still early in the proceedings.

King, a Democrat running for governor, said Friday that he was disappointed in the court’s ruling but still confident in the case.

“The Attorney General’s Office remains dedicated to helping protect New Mexico’s groundwater from pollution posed by chemicals associated with copper mining. We maintain that the revised rule violates the state’s Water Quality Control Act,” he said.

King, the water watchdog groups and Turner’s Ladder Ranch contend the regulations give mining companies too much leeway to pollute groundwater.

State officials defended the regulations, saying they are among the toughest rules in the nation when it comes to dealing with pollution generated by the copper mining industry. State Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the rules, adopted last year, replaced an antiquated system that did not do enough to protect New Mexico’s groundwater.

“They represent a balanced approach to protecting our water while still allowing for economic development and job creation,” Flynn said.

After months of wrangling over how to best deal with potential contamination at mining sites, the Water Quality Control Commission voted 9-1 in September to approve the regulations. The commission heard days of testimony, held public meetings and reviewed volumes of information before taking the vote.

The commission is administratively attached to the Environment Department, and its members include appointees of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, as well as several of her agency officials.

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