|Winter 1998-99 Bulletin|
|Molycorp in Violation
Amigos Bravos' Clean Water Act lawsuit against the Molycorp molybdenum mine received strong validation in November, at the same time that it met with its ultimate defeat.
On November 10, 1998, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) notified Molycorp that the mine is in violation of the New Mexico Water Quality Act and Water Quality Control Commission Regulations for illegally discharging pollutants into ground water from the mine's waste rock piles. Molycorp was given 30 days to submit a discharge plan application or face fines up to $15,000 per day. NMED's letter confirms the substance of Amigos Bravos' 1995 lawsuit against Molycorp, which alleges that the mine is discharging pollutants from its waste rock into the Red River in violation of the Clean Water Act.
In its continuing effort to evade regulation, Molycorp responded to NMED's notice of violation by challenging that agency's authority to regulate its operation. In December, Molycorp submitted permit application materials to NMED for discharges from its waste rock piles, but at the same time filed a request for a hearing with the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission challenging NMED's authority by claiming that the mine "is not discharging to groundwater" and that, in any case, it poses "no hazard to public health." In a satisfying surprise victory for Questa residents and river advocates, Molycorp lost its challenge this January when the Water Quality Control Commission ruled that the mine missed by four years a crucial deadline to contest NMED's permit requirements.
For decades, community residents have tried to halt Molycorp's pollution of local ground and surface waters. The Clean Water Act lawsuit, filed by Amigos Bravos and New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water, was an attempt to address, by legal means, community concerns which had been ignored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the regulatory permitting process in 1993.
Ironically, the notice of violationwas issued three days before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, on the basis of a technicality, declined to hear Amigos Bravos' lawsuit against Molycorp. The judges refused to hear the case on grounds that the plaintiffs-Amigos Bravos and New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water-did not present their claims five years ago during a narrow, 30-day protest period. The judges did not rule on the merits of the evidence against Molycorp, but maintain that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
The Molycorp molybdenum mine, just above Questa, New Mexico, is the largest operating mine in the Río Grande watershed and has been leaching acid and heavy metals-including lead and aluminum-from its waste rock piles into local ground water and the Red River for over 30 years with no regulation by EPA. Earlier in 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report confirming Amigos Bravos' claim that Molycorp's waste rock piles are polluting the river. According to the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission, eight miles of the Red River are biologically dead today because of the Molycorp's discharges into the river.
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