Amigos Bravos

Because Water Matters — Since 1988

We have a vision of New Mexico’s rivers and streams running so clear and clean that you can bend a knee to the water, cup your hands, and drink without fear.

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Mining Reform

Amigos Bravos works to defend the New Mexico Mining Act and its bonding provisions (requirements that mining operations put up a bond whose funds will be used for post-mining cleanup).  New Mexico’s clean-up bonding provisions are among the most stringent in the world.  We helped to coordinate grassroots groups and technical experts during finalization of restoration agreements for the state's hardrock mines, resulting in a strong draft Closeout Permit for comprehensive mine restoration.

We also provide leadership for the New Mexico Mining Act Network (NM MAN), an alliance of community groups, environmental law firms, mining and technical consultants, and regional and national mining reform organizations.  NM MAN works to clean up mine sites and works with affected mining communities to develop post-mining economic development alternatives.

In coordination with Westerners for Responsible Mining, Amigos Bravos participated in a 2004 nationwide push for reform of the federal 1872 Mining Act by staking a mock mining claim to show how easily our nation’s resources can be exploited.  In the 2005 mining reform campaign, we carried out a similar action in coordination with groups nationwide.

Amigos Bravos has provided assistance to many communities adversely affected by extractive industries.  In addition to our long-standing campaign against pollution from the Molycorp mine in Questa, we have worked with communities affected by sand & gravel, copper, and mica operations.

PROJECTS

Chevron Mine in Questa, NM:

For details on this project, visit these two pages: 

www.amigosbravos.org/chevron-questa-mine

www.amigosbravos.org/chevron-questa-mine-continued

Background and Brief Update

Molycorp, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chevron, mines molybdenum ("moly") a few miles east of Questa, New Mexico. The mine dates back to the 1920's. Mining activities continue to this day. In 1965, Molycorp began open pit operations.  In 1983, it returned to underground mining.  The pit, and 360 million tons of acid-generating waste rock excavated from it, now scar more than a thousand acres of the landscape between Questa and the town of Red River.  Due to environmentally reckless operations, the Molycorp molybdenum mine was placed on the National Priorities List (Superfund) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May 2000. In December 2010, the EPA released a Superfund-mandated cleanup plan that will cost an estimated $400-800 million, far more that the financial assurance bond the mine originally posted. 

To clean up the acid-generating waste rock at the site, a remedial design strategy must also be developed. Multi-stakeholder technical meetings to develop that strategy began January 23rd, 2013 and will be ongoing for two years. Chevron Mining Inc. invited Amigos Bravos to provide a technical expert at these meetings and we are taking advantage of this opportunity to stay involved in this difficult and lengthy process.

Mine to Permanently Close - Chevron has decided to close the mine because mining molybdenum, is no longer “economically viable.” For the full news article, click here.

The mine will continue it's clean up processes despite the shut down. Please check back soon for further updates.

Copper Mining:

In 2009 the Legislature - at the request of industry - amended the Water Quality Act to require that the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) adopt specific rules for the copper mine industry.  The stated purpose of the Copper Rule is to provide the copper mining industry with specific requirements for preventing groundwater and surface water pollution and to ensure the industry complies with the Rule.  The Rule uses general rules rather than having the New Mexico Environment Department and the WQCC deal with permit issues on a case-by-case basis.  For the Financial Assurance Requirements under the Rule, please click here.

Since January of 2012, the Department has conducted more than 20 extensive Technical and Advisory Group meetings with industry, government, and public interest groups to seek input in the development and the content of the proposed Copper Mine Rules.  Amigos Bravos, Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP), the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) and our technical consultant, Jim Kuipers of Kuipers and Associates, have participated in all of these meetings.  However the new proposed rules do not reflect our concerns.  To the contrary the new rules allow mines to contaminate water.

Although a reasonable version of the rule was cooperatively developed by all the parties, the draft that was released to the public by the Martinez Administration on September 13, 2012 is an industry-modified version of the previous drafts that will allow existing contaminating activities to continue at existing Copper Mines and is in many areas not reflective of industry best practice.

This pro-industry rule will allow copper mines to create new tailings and stockpiles without liners, grant exemptions for activities that otherwise require a variance from the Water Quality Act, and allow open pit water pumping and treatment in perpetuity.   These proposed regulations will result in ever increasing water contamination that will place New Mexico's drinking water, and people's health at risk.  For a press release from Amigos Bravos, NMELC and GRIP, click here.

The New Mexico Environment Water Quality Control Commission will be holding a Public Hearing on April 9, 2013 to adopt draft proposed new rules to protect ground water from copper mining facilities. Live streaming of these hearings can be seen here on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday beginning April 9th.  Proceedings will continue for as long as necessary.  For more information on the copper rule hearing and how you can help, please see our Copper Rules Fact Sheet.

Key concerns that should be raised at the public meeting include the following:

  1. Closed door settlement agreements related to one mine (Tyrone Mine in Southern NM) should not be the basis for rules that are meant to regulate all new and existing copper mines
  2. Variances should be required where water quality standards will be compromised regardless of where the contaminating activity takes place, as is consistent with the Water Quality Act
  3. Consistent with industry best practices, liners should be required beneath all stockpiles and tailings facilities that have the potential to generate water contaminants, unless a variance is obtained as required by the Water Quality Act
  4. Despite many hours of intense discussions regarding slope stability, grading and cover, NMED ignored Best Management Practices in favor of industry recommendations for closure requirements, which allow current polluting practices to continue
  5. As previously decided by the WQCC and upheld by the NM Court of Appeals in the case of the Tyrone mine closure-closeout plan, protection of groundwater quality should not be limited to specific points of compliance such as designated wells. The NM Water Quality Act requires protection of groundwater at all "places of present and reasonably foreseeable future use"
  6. The New Mexico Environment Department's regulatory authority should not be delegated to private engineers that work for the mine permittee
  7. Industry best practices for monitoring and reporting should be required. The public draft modified by the Martinez Administration on behalf of the industry minimizes reporting requirements and permits water quality monitoring annually rather than quarterly
  8. In several places the regulations impose a standard or requirement, but then include language that allows the applicant to propose an "alternate design." This is like having no standard at all and defeats the purpose of the statute that required WQCC to adopt standards
  9. Setback distances between mines and domestic wells, springs and municipal wells need to be increased in order to protect public drinking water supplies. 500 ft - 1000 ft is insufficient to protect important drinking water supplies
  10. Public notification requirements need to be significantly improved. Public notice should be mailed to landowners within 1 - 5 miles of the site, the distance a groundwater contamination plume can easily travel. The dairy rule requires notification of landowners 1 mile from the site. It is reasonable that the mining rule should require notification at least 1 mile from the mine site
  11. The public's statutory right to request a hearing on a mine application should not be limited or restricted by the proposed regulation
  12. "Bad actor" language needs to be included in the rule to require full disclosure of the applicant's and operator's current and past environmental, labor and safety compliance violations
  13. NMED should require its own financial assurance that would be in place for 100 years to cover any water quality issues that arise post reclamation

Gravel Mining:
Highways and roads require enormous amounts of aggregate and stone materials for their construction. Gravel and other minerals for road construction are mined from riverbeds and hillsides to serve the highway construction and building construction industries, leaving mines un-reclaimed. Local residents and entire communities feel the affects of industrial traffic and noise from gravel mining.  Environmental degradation accompanies these mining operations and remains after they cease. this includes air pollution, scars on the landscape, and threatened surface waters and groundwater.

Aggregate, stone, and industrial mineral mines are common across New Mexico.  Sand and gravel deposits are located in every county of the state and are mined based on their proximity to the point of final use, quality of the materials in the deposit, and accessibility.

Aggregate and stone mining produces materials that are used in road construction, building construction, landscaping, and other general construction uses. Because haul costs are the single largest variable in determining the cost of material in road construction, aggregate mines are often opened near a specific road project and then abandoned once the project is completed.  Consequently, the majority of both active and inactive mines are located along interstate highways or major state and county roads.

Existing state environmental laws are limited in scope in regulating aggregate and stone mines. Industrial minerals are covered under the New Mexico Mining Act, which requires formal permitting and reclamation requirements.  Aggregate and stone mines are not regulated under the New Mexico Mining Act.  They must be registered with the Mining and Minerals Division of the NM Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, and (except for Bernalillo County, which is regulated by EPA) obtain permits from the Environment Department (NMED) and the Department of Transportation (NMDOT).  Portable crusher/screen plants are allowed to operate for up to one year with minimal permitting requirements, and then can move operations to other sites with no requirements for public notification.

Because aggregate and stone mines are exempted from reclamation and regulatory requirements under the New Mexico Mining Act, these mines are not required to re-vegetate or reclaim their operations unless county regulations exist and are applied.  Consequently, hundreds of abandoned and inactive mines are located in every county of the state.

Mines are required to wash some materials on site and control dust, using millions of gallons of scarce groundwater to perform these tasks.  Although dust control is necessary at these mines, the use of scarce potable water for dust suppression must be compared to the increasing demands of domestic water use.  Although the New Mexico State Engineer's Office is supposed to regulate all groundwater development, most aggregate and stone mines (as well as many industrial mineral mines) develop and use water wells with little or no oversight from the state.  Consequently, the actual amount of water used by such mines is unknown.

For more information on New Mexico’s gravel mining industry and recommendations for alternate materials, click here. For a 2012 list of active mines in New Mexico, please see the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department’s list.
 

Coal Mining:

Coal production is significant to the economy of New Mexico, as the third largest source of revenues from mineral and energy production. Coal resources underlie 12 percent (14.6 million acres) of the state, mostly in the northern areas of the San Juan and Raton basins.  Approximately 46 percent of the state’s total energy needs are met through coal power.  For an interactive map of coal mines in New Mexico, click here.

Beginning in the 1850s, coal production and mining became important to the economic development of New Mexico.  The first growth of the coal industry was driven by westward expansion and the development of the railroads, with yearly production first exceeding 1 million short tons in 1889. In 1918, this first cycle of coal production peaked at over 4 million short tons of coal.  After World War I, production dropped continually through the depression of the 1920s and early 30s.  By 1958, coal production had dropped to 86,000 short tons, in part due to cheap natural gas and the conversion of diesel engines by the railroad

In the 1960s, coal production began to increase due to the growing population of the Southwest and California.  By 1997, annual coal production had reached 26.77 million short tons.  More than half of all coal mined in the state has been produced since 1990. Between 1882 and 2007, New Mexico produced 936.7 million short tons of coal.  From 1990 to 2007, New Mexico produced 480.7 million short tons of coal (51.3 percent of all coal mined ever mined in the state)

Peabody Coal has operated two of the largest strip mines in the US (the Kayenta and Black Mesa mines) on Black Mesa since 1965.  Beginning in the 1970s, Peabody Coal Company pumped more than 4,500 acre-feet of Navajo and Hopi drinking water from the Navajo aquifer, in order to run their coal-slurry operations.  The slurry was sent through a 273 mile pipeline from Black Mesa to northern Arizona and southern Nevada, where it was used to provide electricity to residents of California, Nevada, and Arizona. Between 1965 and 2004, Peabody used more than 60 percent of the Navajo Aquifer for industrial use.  One of the impacts of draining billions of gallons of groundwater from the aquifer is the lowering of the water table.  Reports from the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Resources Defense Council have shown that the Navajo Aquifer water table has dropped significantly and that it continues to deteriorate.  Additional environmental damage has been done by the coal slurry pipeline breaking multiple times, resulting in the flooding and contaminating of lands and streambeds by hundreds of tons of slurry.  In addition to the environmental impact, Navajo and Hopi people living on Black Mesa still do not have electricity or running water, which has led to charges of environmental racism and injustice.

Coal fired power plants—like the Four Corners Power Plant to which the Navajo Mine supplies coal—are a major source of mercury pollution.  This is an important issue of public health both on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation and throughout the Four Corners Region.  Mercury pollution is impacting the majority of reservoirs in New Mexico and numerous sections of rivers including large sections of the Rio Grande are also being impacted as well.  The New Mexico Environment Department has listed many rivers and reservoirs as impaired for mercury and many reservoirs have some sort of fish consumption advisory order because of mercury in fish tissue.

The Navajo Mine discharges into a tributary of the San Juan River, which is an important river culturally, economically and recreationally to the people of New Mexico.  As stated previously Amigos Bravos works to protect the public’s interest in clean water in all river systems in New Mexico.  At issue in this case is the broad public right to have the potential environmental impacts of the proposed expansion at the Navajo Mine evaluated prior to government approval of the expansion.

There are currently four active coal mines in NM – Lee Ranch, San Juan, Navajo, and El Segundo. There are also three coal plants currently in operation – Four Corners, San Juan, and Escalante. Amigos Bravos is working on litigation involving the 13,000 acre Navajo mine in San Juan County, NM on the Navajo Nation.  Four Corners Power Plant, built in 1962, provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and is the largest coal-fired power plant source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States (NOx is associated with public-health impacts including respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes).

In 2012 Amigos Bravos and the Sierra Club joined plaintiffs from the Endangered Species Act litigation in a National Environmental Policy Act lawsuit challenging the Office of Surface Mining’s 2011 conclusion that expanding the Navajo Mine would not cause significant human health and environmental impacts.   That lawsuit, being argued by Western Environmental Law Center, seeks a comprehensive analysis of the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant’s impacts to health and the environment to inform current and future coal-related decisions and help illuminate opportunities to transition away from coal toward clean, renewable energy generated by New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind.

Uranium Mining:

In the West, the uranium industry began to rise in the post-World War II atomic age. However, production faded to almost nothing by the mid-1980s after nuclear accident scares at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union shook public faith in nuclear power.

Recently, increasing demand for energy in developed and underdeveloped nations, combined with worries that coal- and oil-fired power plants contribute to global warming have made nuclear power desirable once again.  Other aspects that make it appealing include the facts that nuclear power produces zero greenhouse gases, and the US has a massive supply of uranium.

Uranium is found widely in the US, but New Mexico is the mother lode.  John Indall, a Santa Fe lawyer for the Uranium Producers of America estimates that 600 million pounds of uranium lie under New Mexico's sandy soil.  And the energy produced by a pellet of uranium the size of a fingertip is equal to that produced by nearly a ton of coal.

The surging price of uranium has lured more than two-dozen companies with mining expertise to the high-desert uranium fields here recently, says Indall. The companies are reviving old claims, searching filing cabinets for forgotten geological maps and hiring old workers who know the land.  However, in 2008, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center released the results of an investigation that examined whether or not renewed uranium mining would deliver an economic boom for New Mexico.   Dr. Thomas M. Power, a natural resources economist from the University of Montana who conducted the study, found that New Mexico taxpayers will not see the $30 billion gain projected by the mining industry as a result of the growing demand for uranium to power nuclear power reactors.  Dr. Power even reported that taxpayers will potentially lose value due to the environmental impact of mining.  To read the full study, click here.

Amigos Bravos is now looking at the resurgence of interest in uranium mining and milling in New Mexico.  At this time, there are no operating uranium mines in New Mexico.  However, on November 6, 2009, the first application for a permit to mine uranium was submitted to the NM Mining and Minerals Division by the Roca Honda Mine of Strathmore Minerals Corporation.  Amigos Bravos will be participating in the permitting hearings.

Working with MASE and the NM Environmental Law Center, Amigos Bravos successfully petitioned for a public hearing on a Standby Permit request for the Mt Taylor uranium mine, but the state’s hearing officer blocked Amigos Bravos’ expert testimony at the request of the mine operator’s lawyers.  Amigos Bravos is appealing the resulting decision, which seriously undercuts citizen participation.  For more information on uranium mining activity in New Mexico, click here.