Santa Fe New Mexican
Sierra County backs proposed copper mine
In New Mexico, we walk a fine line between economic development and the environment, between job creation and protecting our water. We depend on state agencies, such as the New Mexico Environment Department, to ensure that any company pursuing development of the state’s mineral resources comply with the agencies’ stringent regulations; regulations designed to protect public health and the environment.
As elected officials, it is our duty to recruit and attract businesses that create jobs in our communities while safeguarding our environment. We understand the necessity of encouraging and promoting environmentally responsible economic development in Sierra County, which is why we support such projects. One project that will help Sierra County achieve its goals of boosting the local economy in an environmentally responsible way is the proposed Copper Flat Mine.
Copper Flat Mine will provide a significant economic boost to Sierra County and New Mexico through job creation and tax revenues. The mine will create approximately 1,300 direct, indirect and induced jobs. The estimated taxes paid over construction and life of the mine is approximately $175 million.
Late last year, the New Mexico Environment Department conducted hearings on this proposed mine and, after an extensive evaluation by multiple technical experts, it issued a discharge permit to the New Mexico Copper Corporation for the mine. This permit is one of many the New Mexico Copper Corp. will need to operate the mine.
On Aug. 13, the Water Quality Control Commission will hold a public meeting at the Roundhouse to consider the New Mexico Environment Department’s issuance of a discharge permit to the New Mexico Copper Corp. This hearing is not triggered by any wrongdoing, but rather because several groups have objected to the issuance of the discharge permit. These objections are raised even though an impartial hearing officer determined that the New Mexico Copper Corp. followed the stringent requirements of the Copper Rule, which is specifically designed to protect all groundwater of the state from operations at copper mines. The same dissatisfied environmental groups objecting to the issuance of the New Mexico Copper Corp.’s discharge permit also challenged the Copper Rule in state Supreme Court, which was unanimously upheld by the court after many years of litigation (“High court upholds copper mining rule,” In brief, March 9, 2018).
I disagree with the groups challenging the issuance of New Mexico Copper Corp.’s discharge permit — in my opinion, they make groundless allegations that the mine will flood, collapse and contaminate surrounding properties, Caballo Reservoir, Elephant Butte Reservoir and the Rio Grande. But, as we learned from qualified experts in the five-day hearing in September, water from the mine will not migrate and contaminate other surface or groundwater.
Another claim I dispute is that the tailings liner at the mine site, which further protects groundwater from contamination, is not reliable. The discharge permit requires the mine to use double synthetic liners with leak detection. In fact, during the hearing, the opposition’s own expert agreed the liner meets the requirements of the Copper Rule. Additionally, the Environment Department increased the number of water-monitoring wells beyond what originally was required, to make the groundwater monitoring network more robust. The Environment Department fully evaluated the discharge permit’s compliance with the stringent requirements of the Copper Rule and is doing everything needed to protect public health and the environment.
The Water Quality Control Commission should recognize that the hearing officer and the New Mexico Environment Department carefully evaluated the scientific, technical and proven engineering evidence presented by New Mexico Copper Corp.’s highly qualified experts when they made their findings of compliance with the Copper Rule and decision to issue the permit, respectively. The decision to issue the discharge permit was further supported by 18,985 pages of documents, including many scientific reports and studies. Had the Environment Department concluded that operation of the Copper Flat Mine would threaten groundwater, cause an undue risk to property or be a hazard to public health, the permit would never have been issued.
As representatives of Sierra County, we strongly believe and recommend that the members of the Water Quality Control Commission should reaffirm the issuance of New Mexico Copper Corp.’s discharge permit and allow the project to move forward. The challenge to the issuance of this discharge permit is not warranted and is simply a waste of time, and wasted time means wasted opportunity for Sierra County.