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Chevron Mining agrees to $143 million cleanup of Questa mine

SANTA FE, N.M. — Chevron Mining Inc. has agreed to a $143 million settlement with the state and federal governments to clean up the closed molybdenum mine near Questa, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

The proposed partial consent decree, if approved by the court, will provide for the next phase of the cleanup at the Superfund site, according to a Justice Department news release.  It is the largest settlement of its kind for cleanup work in Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6, the department said.

The mine, which had been in operation in Taos County on and off since 1916, closed for good in 2014.

Under the settlement, the company will undertake a pilot project to cover about 275 acres of mine waste, or “tailings,” operate a water treatment plant and install groundwater extraction systems, according to the Justice Department. Chevron Mining will also reimburse the Environmental Protection Agency more than $5.2 million for overseeing past cleanup at the site.

Mining operations and waste disposal over the years contaminated soil, sediment, surface water and groundwater, the Justice Department said.

“In addition to requiring crucial cleanup work, the settlement includes important measures to prevent further contamination of the environment and provides for extensive monitoring to ensure compliance,” said U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez of the District of New Mexico.

Chevron Mining already has completed some cleanup work at the site under previous agreements with EPA, including the cleanup of Eagle Rock Lake and the removal of numerous tailing spills.  The new work is expected to improve efforts to permanently prevent contamination of the Red River and other water resources and to reduce risks to nearby communities.

“This $143 million cleanup is a powerful example of regulatory protections that work,” said Acting Secretary Butch Tongate for the New Mexico Environment Department.  “In addition to the $112 million already collected for environmental work during this administration, the State of New Mexico is pleased with the enforcement of regulations that hold Chevron Mining accountable for the environmental impacts caused by the now-closed Questa Mine which will foster a renewed Questa/Red River destination area.”

The proposed settlement follows a September 2015 consent decree on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the New Mexico State Office of Natural Resource Trustee.  Under that decree, Chevron Mining paid more than $4.2 million for acquiring, restoring or replacing natural resources damaged by mine activities.

The consent decree is subject to the 30-day comment period, during wich the public can submit written comments, and final approval by the court. Efforts to reach Chevron officials for comment Tuesday were unsucessful.

A copy of the consent decree is available here.