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Hearings to craft groundwater protection for mining

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A series of hearings on what could become the state’s first groundwater protection rules for copper mining in New Mexico is under way before a state board in Santa Fe.

The New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission began taking testimony on the state Environment Department proposals Tuesday. It will meet Tuesdays through Thursdays, possibly into May, until the hearing is concluded. A public hearing is set for today and Thursday in Santa Fe and May 3 in Silver City.

Developed with a technical and advisory committee, the measures are the “most environmentally protective copper rules in the country” and would make decisions on permits more consistent, Environment Department general counsel Ryan Flynn said.

Mining hearings
Mining groundwater hearings schedule:
The state hearing resumes today at the New Mexico State Capitol, Room 307, 407 Galisteo St., Santa Fe, beginning at 9 a.m.
A public hearing will be held in Santa Fe today and Thursday from 5-7 p.m. in Apodaca Hall in the Old P.E.R.A. Building at 1120 Paseo de Peralta.
A public hearing also will be held May 3 from 4-7 p.m. at the WNMU Global Resources Center Auditorium in Silver City.
Public comment can also emailed by May 2 to the</td>

The state has two active copper mines – Tyrone and Chino in southwestern New Mexico – and three others in permitting stages.

“There was no industry-specific rule for copper,” Flynn told the Journal. “We have groundwater protection rules that are general rules (but) left a lot of discretion up to the department.”


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The New Mexico Mining Association, the Grant County Commission, mayors of Silver City, Hurley and Bayard and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers are among those that have endorsed the rules, he said.

Opponents include the state Attorney General’s Office and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, representing Gila Resources Information Project and Turner Enterprises. They contend the rules are illegal under the Water Quality Act and were unduly influenced by the mining industry.

The rules address mine design, construction and operations, prescribe monitoring around open pits and groundwater flows near leach and waste rock stockpiles and tailings, and call for corrective action plans to address groundwater standard exceedances. They also address what needs to be done to close a mine.

Flynn said the opponents’ position reflects the NMED’s legal position before a 2006 Court of Appeals opinion – that groundwater standards could not be exceeded anywhere in the state. The court rejected “such a broad and impractical interpretation of the act,” he said.