|Winter 1998-99 Bulletin|
| ACTION ALERT
Amigos Bravos Watchdogs Molycorp Permits
|Molycorp Watch is not the only project we work on (though battling a multinational corporation could easily be a full-time job), but this year it is taking center stage. For years, Amigos Bravos has prepared to weigh in on five different Molycorp permits, all of which are up this year. State and federal permits compel Molycorp to obey the law and operate responsibly. Cumbersome and bureaucratic as it is, regulatory permitting is our best chance to stop pollution and restore the Red River ecosystem.
Many laws exist to protect the health of water, land, wildlife, and human communities, but citizens must get involved in the process in order to ensure that the laws are enforced. Sending your comments to agencies responsible for regulating the Molycorp mine, and expressing your views at public hearings, are important ways to protect the rivers. Public participation helps ensure that Unocal-the global oil corporation that owns Molycorp-will not turn a profit at the expense of the river and downstream communities.
Typically, a public comment period of 30 days constitutes "public participation" in the permitting processes. It is enormously important that decision makers hear from you during this period. The comment period may be extended, or a public hearing granted, only if the permitting agency deems that there is enough "public interest." Even if you miss the narrow 30-day window, your comments still count. Among other things, let agencies know that the existing public participation provisions don't really serve the public.
Public hearings allow you to hear the issues from all sides, speak out in a public forum, and cross examine other witnesses.
Members of Trout Unlimited and Sangre de Cristo Flyfishers recently added their voices to the chorus of concerned citizens, by sending letters protesting the terms of Molycorp's Existing Mining Operation Permit. Although the Mining and Minerals Division (MMD) granted the permit on December 31, 1998, public comments did make a difference. MMD incorporated some of the conditions Amigos Bravos proposed into the final premit documents.
Comment periods and public hearings for three other key permits are expected to be held this summer. If you'd like to take part, or want an overview of the issues or a copy of our comments, please contact our office. We'd need your help to make the process work.
Molycorp's Closeout and Reclamation Plan, under the New Mexico Mining & Minerals Division, is possibly the most important part of mine permitting in New Mexico. This plan is a blueprint for landscape reclamation and ecological restoration of the decimated lower Red River watershed after the mine's closure.
There is evidence from other mining communities in the West that sound reclamation can reinvigorate a local economy and provide safer, more secure jobs. A sound Reclamation Plan will provide the opportunity for workers to be retrained in the field of mine reclamation and ecosystem restoration, and create a more stable economic base than the boom-and-bust cycle of mining.
An inadequate Closeout Plan, on the other hand, could result in long-term damage to water quality; destruction of the legendary Red River trout fishery; loss of native plants and wildlife; and significant damage to human health downstream and downwind in the community of Questa. The effects of inadequate reclamation would be felt for centuries. With this in mind, it is imperative that the Closeout Plan be prepared in a thoughtful, conscientious manner, and that it be informed by public participation.
Molycorp's financial assurance mechanism, a critical part of the Closeout Plan, is one pressing concern. Financial assurance is a bond set aside to cover the costs of closeout and reclamation when a mine inevitably shuts down. The New Mexico Mining Act demands that all permits for existing mines, including the financial assurance, be in place by December 31, 1999. But given the timeline, the deadline is impossible to meet. At a minimum, we believe Molycorp should have a financial assurance mechanism in place before the end of 1999, even if the rest of the permitting is not yet finalized.
Amigos Bravos also suggests that, as a goodwill gesture, Molycorp begin immediately to retrain current and past employees in specific skills related to closeout and reclamation, in preparation for the mine's inevitable closure.
The Revised Closure Plan for DP-933, administered by the Groundwater Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department, regulates discharge from the mine's highly toxic tailings ponds into local groundwater. Despite Molycorp's containment efforts, contaminated water continues to seep past a "Seepage Interception Barrier" and threaten water quality in the Red River. Molycorp's woefully inadequate plans for closure consist primarily of capping the tailings with a very thin layer of top soil. This this cap would not provide a realistic growth medium for native plants nor provide an adequate barrier against water seeping through to the tailings. Inadequate capping will also result in heavy metal concentrations in forage for wildlife and grazing livestock.
· The final permit on the docket is DP-1055, also administered by the Groundwater Bureau, which regulates toxic discharge from the miine's 320 million tons of waste rock into groundwater, which in turn seeps directly into the Red River. Amigos Bravos contends that these behemoth waste rock piles are the largest single source of Molycorp's pollution, and eliminating this discharge is absolutely essential to protect the river.
How You Can Participate
Amigos Bravos encourages your participation in the permitting process, whether at a public hearing or via public comments. Please contact our office for information, or contact the following agencies regarding specific permits
To comment, or for more information on the Closeout Plan, contact: Director, Mining & Minerals Division, New Mexico Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department, 2040 S. Pacheco Street, Santa Fe, NM 87505; phone: (505) 827-5950; fax: 827-7195.
To comment, or for more information on DP-933 and DP-1055, contact: Marcy Leavitt, Chief, Groundwater Protection & Remediation Bureau, New Mexico Environment Department, PO Box 26110, Santa Fe, NM 87502; phone: (505) 827-2919; fax: 827-2965.
Don't forget to check out Amigos Bravos' Molycorp Watch website for more information and regular updates.
|Please return to Winter Bulletin 1998-99 Index.|