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Thursday, March 6, 2003

Senator Drops Bill Relaxing Rules on Mine Cleanup

By Tania Soussan
Journal Staff Writer
    Sen. Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City, agreed this week to drop a controversial bill that would have weakened the New Mexico Mining Act.
    Gov. Bill Richardson's Cabinet secretaries for the state Environment and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources departments praised the move.
    "I have no interest in pursuing this bill any further at this time," Altamirano said. "After listening to the departments' input and hearing about their efforts to work with the mining industry, I have decided that the Mining Act is best left as is."
    The legislation (SB 473) would have established "mining districts" with relaxed environmental regulations and allowed parent companies of mine operators to use a self-guarantee rather than a financial assurance bond to ensure mine reclamation.
    "This bill would have completely gutted the Mining Act and exempted mines from ever having to reclaim," said Harry Browne, executive director of the Silver City-based Gila Resources Information Project, which has been lobbying for stricter cleanup requirements for the Phelps Dodge Corp. mines in the area.
    The bill had not yet had a committee hearing.
    Phelps Dodge, which is in the process of getting state closure permits for its mines, supported the bill and has said the Mining Act needs changes.
    "We're hoping that this can be resolved administratively," said Phelps Dodge spokesman Richard Peterson.