ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The New Mexico Court of Appeals this week upheld the recently adopted Copper Mine Rule that is designed to manage groundwater impacts from copper mining operations.
The court found that the Copper Rule does not permit widespread groundwater pollution as alleged by the appellants, the state Environment Department said in a news release.
“… The notions that the Regulations allow widespread pollution or that they allow a mine facility to pollute groundwater underlying the entire facility or that the monitor wells may be ‘distant’ are unfounded or otherwise exaggerated,” according to the court ruling.
New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn praised the court’s action in a statement.
“The Copper Rule … is among the toughest such regulations in the nation,” Flynn said. “It replaces an antiquated system that was inadequate in protecting New Mexico’s precious groundwater resources. This rule represents a balanced approach to protecting our water while still allowing for economic development and job creation.”
The rule was revamped at the urging of state Legislature which decided in 2009 that the previous system for regulating groundwater at copper mines had been arbitrary, inconsistent and resulted in years of protracted litigation.
A variety of environmental groups as well as then Attorney General Gary King unsuccessfully argued that the new rule would allow groundwater underneath mine sites to be contaminated at levels above groundwater quality standards.
The Environment Department also said the rule provides new criteria for closing a mine. They include: re-grading land and installing ground cover to minimize infiltration of precipitation into and through mined materials that might otherwise reach groundwater; new engineering design requirements for waste rock and leach stockpiles, and impoundments; and specific design technology requirements for impoundments, tanks and pipelines.