My highest priority as Cabinet secretary of New Mexico’s Environment Department is to protect our state’s natural resources. I have also promised that I will always consider the potential impacts of environmental regulations on our state’s economy and our ability to create and keep jobs.
Throughout my tenure at the department, first as general counsel and now as secretary, these commitments have guided all of my decisions.
No doubt, you’ve heard many mistruths about the new “Copper Rule.” The truth is that it applies stricter, more consistent guidelines for protecting groundwater beneath copper mines and it replaces an outdated system that was failing to protect our environment and obstructing investment in the state.
The expert testimony provided during the two-week hearing presented a detailed comparison between the proposed Copper Rule and similarly restrictive laws in Arizona and Nevada, concluding that the Copper Rule adopted by the commission in this state is more comprehensive and more protective of groundwater.
Expert testimony also demonstrated that New Mexico’s old system, a system which allowed widespread groundwater contamination at various mine sites in the state, was far less protective than the Copper Rule adopted by the commission.
Perhaps most significantly, the Copper Rule ultimately adopted by the commission was endorsed by the people who would be directly impacted by the new rules – the people of Grant County.
Local mayors, chambers of commerce, the Grant County Commission, academic leaders and a number of state legislators all expressed strong support for the Copper Rule during the public hearing. Most of the opposition to the Copper Rule came from organizations in Santa Fe and Taos, communities in which no copper mining occurs.
Not only is our new rule one of the most restrictive in the country, but under this administration the Environment Department has worked successfully throughout the state to protect our environment, all while protecting jobs and economic growth:
- We worked with the federal government, PNM and the Navajo Nation to adopt a plan that will result in the largest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the history of the state, avoid a significant rate increase for families, and move us toward natural gas and renewable energy while protecting jobs.
- We established water quality standards for 62 lakes in the Rio Grande, Pecos, Canadian, Gila, San Juan and Little Colorado Basins.
- We created a River Stewards Program that will help improve water quality in rivers and streams throughout the state.
- We worked with the State Land Office to clean up a massive tire dump in Mora County, known as the “River of Tires.”
- We pressed the federal government to clean up legacy waste at the Los Alamos National Laboratory more quickly than ever.
- We fined polluters more than $27 million for violations of the state’s environmental regulations.
- We worked with the Legislature to invest an unprecedented $89 million in statewide water infrastructure projects to rehabilitate dams, repair damaged watersheds, and provide clean water to struggling communities.
- And we developed a Copper Rule that establishes a comprehensive framework for protecting groundwater while setting clear, predictable guidelines for industry.
The truth is that we have made progress on a number of important issues by working with communities and stakeholders and avoiding exactly the sort of divisive political rhetoric now being employed by the activists complaining about the Copper Rule.
Protecting New Mexico’s air, water and beautiful landscape is simply too important to allow politics to get in the way of progress. By working together and basing decisions on science, not emotion, we can continue to protect the land that we love and balance our need for economic growth and job creation, all while promote the health of our communities for generations to come.