News & Events
For the most up to date news on Amigos Bravos' work, read our recent E-currents here: March/April 2016
For older E-currents, visit that page here.
Court: EPA must require hard-rock mines to pay cleanup costs
Posted: Friday, January 29, 2016 10:45 pm | Updated: 9:20 pm, Mon Feb 1, 2016.
By Rebecca Moss
The New Mexican
Mining companies and the federal government may soon be responsible for cleaning up toxic waste that results from hard-rock extraction, an issue that has plagued New Mexico for decades.
On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize regulations by December for hard-rock mining — such as iron, copper, lead and uranium — that include requirements for companies to cover waste cleanup costs. The ruling was issued in a case brought by several environmental organizations, including New Mexico-based Amigos Bravos.
The court order outlines the potential for the EPA to create similar requirements for the coal, chemical and oil industries by 2020.
National concerns about mine reclamation were raised in August, when 3 million gallons of contaminated water spilled into the Animas River from the abandoned Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo. Farmers in northwestern New Mexico, including many from the Navajo Nation, were forced to halt agriculture as opaque, rust-orange water flowed from the Animas to the San Juan River.
Under the court order, however, the new EPA regulations will apply only to ongoing and future mine production, not the thousands of abandoned hard-rock mines scattered across New Mexico and the West.
Read the full story here.
Taos Regional Water Plan Update
Meg Scherch Peterson For The Taos News Jan 18, 2016
The draft of the Taos Regional Water Plan Update (RWP), in the works for more than a year, was among the first eight plans reviewed by the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) and released back to the Taos RWP Steering Committee for the next phase of the process.
Environmentalists Plan to Sue Feds for Approving Navajo Coal Mine Ops
Environmental groups are threatening to sue federal agencies over the feds’ recent approval of ongoing operations at the Navajo Mine, which supplies the notoriously polluting Four Corners Power Plant in the eastern Navajo Nation.
Saying No to Coal: Conservation groups sue feds over 25-year extension for Four Corners Power Plant
December 22, 2015, 2:00 pm
By Elizabeth Miller
Arguing that federal agencies ignored the effects of coal-fired power on the environment and public health, conservation groups have filed a notice of intent to sue the agencies that approved the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project. The plant and mine are among the largest sources of carbon emissions in the nation.
EPA Rule Aims To Curb Toxic Coal Plant Pollution In Waterways
BY KATIE VALENTINE SEP 30, 2015 2:39PM
The Environmental Protection Agency announced new rules Wednesday aimed at curbing the amount of pollution that power plants dump into streams.
The rule, known as the Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines, targets steam electric power plants — plants that use steam to drive the electric generator — that dump large amounts of toxic pollutants into streams every year. The rule, according to the EPA, marks the first time the federal government has set limits on the amount of toxic metals that power plants can discharge into streams. The EPA estimates that the rule will keep 1.4 billion pounds of toxic metals and other pollutants out of waterways each year.
- Read more here.
Martinez Administration Sues to Keep New Mexico Rivers Vulnerable to Dumping.
Dirty-Water Lawsuit by State Blocks Critical Clean Water Protections in New Mexico
Gov. Martinez’s administration has again jumped at an opportunity to shred protections of our drinking water. Last Thursday the EPA finalized a Clean Water Rule that clarifies that waters that were historically covered under the federal Clean Water Act, such as small tributary streams and wetlands, are once again covered by the federal law. The Martinez Administration, joining with 12 other states, filed a lawsuit to block the rule.
Hours before the new rule was to go into effect, a federal judge in North Dakota ruled that while the lawsuit is pending, the new rule will not apply to waters in the 13 states that filed the lawsuit, including those in New Mexico.
“This recent lawsuit is one more action in a long line of dirty water efforts by the Martinez Administration to reduce clean water protections across the state,” said Rachel Conn, Interim Executive Director for Amigos Bravos. “This action is doubly irresponsible on the part of the state because, unlike other states, New Mexico does not have a state regulatory structure in place to control discharges into our rivers and streams.”
The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, has guided the transition from rivers that literally caught on fire to healthy watersheds where species like the bald eagle and river otter once again thrive. This is the legislation that requires wastewater and industrial facilities to clean water before discharging into the nation’s rivers. After Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, which waters were protected by the Clean Water Act was called into question. These Supreme Court rulings made Clean Water Act protections for some waters that historically had been covered under the law, such as waters that flow intermittently or are isolated, uncertain. Because more than 90% of rivers and streams in New Mexico are classified as ephemeral or intermittent, many New Mexico waterways lost Clean Water Act protection. This new rule clarifies that some of the rivers, streams, and wetlands that fell through the cracks in the post-2001 confusion are indeed protected. Because of the state’s lawsuit, New Mexico’s waters are still being denied those protections.
Protecting water quality in ephemeral and intermittent drainages in New Mexico is critically important for New Mexico’s communities and wildlife. Twenty percent of animal species in New Mexico utilize ephemeral and/or intermittent waters, including 24 species that have been identified by the state as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need.” EPA estimates that at least 280,000 people in the state receive drinking water from ephemeral and/or intermittent sources.
Instead of protecting our water, the Martinez Administration is spending precious state resources on gutting environmental protections and pursuing dirty water lawsuits, “ said David Coss, Chair of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Under previous administrations, the state has supported the restoration of Clean Water Act jurisdiction, at one time even going to Congress to testify in support of steps to restore these protections. Contrary to all sorts of dire predictions surrounding this rule, less water is protected under the new rule than was protected during the Reagan Administration. The new rule, in addition to preserving all historic Clean Water Act agriculture exemptions, also identifies new agricultural exemptions.
Old mines present mammoth remediation task in N.M.
By Justin Horwath- The Santa Fe New Mexican, September 5th, 2015
For the full Santa Fe New Mexican Article, click here.
Steering his Toyota 4Runner through a dirt path in the town of Cerrillos, Todd Brown points to one of the piles of waste rock that have been sitting for decades in one of the most mineral-rich mining districts in the state.
“In the old days … they didn’t even know what reclamation meant,” Brown says about the process of restoring an abandoned mine site. “And people die, and people move and people sell. That’s why nothing ever got cleaned up.
”Brown’s nearby Cerrillos mining museum caters to a familiar Old West narrative. But a few miles away, where Brown cares for private properties, waste rock piles that have been sitting on these rolling hills for decades attest to a different legacy that miners from the 19th century and earlier left behind.Brown points to an open-pit turquoise mine that he said Native Americans first dug. Nearby, there’s a foundation of what once was a coal smelter. Slag — rock stripped of its minerals through smelting — blackens the ground. He points to abandoned mine sites miles off in the distance, where, he said, yellow streaks tell of sulfuric acid runoff.
“It’s a major problem in the West,” he says of abandoned mine sites.As local and federal officials continue to assess the damage wrought by the release of 3 million gallons of chemically tainted water from the Gold King Mine in Colorado, New Mexico has a staggering inventory of abandoned mines, many rated as highly dangerous as Gold King, and only a fraction of them remediated.Money to address the problem has been slow in coming. The dangers presented by New Mexico’s mines have more to do with hikers accidentally falling into one rather than chemical leakage into watersheds, state and federal officials say. But those officials also acknowledge the environmental hazards posed by those mines need to be assessed.In fact, public officials and scientists don’t know how many abandoned mines scar New Mexico’s 121,697 square miles — much less the precise environmental dangers posed by tens of thousands of abandoned mines across the state.Nationally, according to estimates by federal agencies, there are 500,000 abandoned mines. In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said 161,000 abandoned hard-rock mine sites dot 12 Western states and Alaska.Nearly a quarter of those sites, roughly 33,000, “had degraded the environment, by contaminated surface water and groundwater or leaving arsenic-contaminated tailings piles,” the GAO stated in a separate report to Congress in 2011.
Following the 2008 GAO report, which criticized several federal agencies for failures and inconsistencies in tracking mine data, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies launched an online portal to collect information about abandoned mines.Bureau of Land Management officials have been spanning out across the West with GPS equipment to identify abandoned mines. They’ve collected the most comprehensive inventory of abandoned mines in New Mexico, but those are only the mines in and around public lands in the state.Bill Auby, who heads the abandoned mines program for the BLM in New Mexico, said it’s “going to take time. It’s going to be a long process to get to all the mining districts and wander the hills and find these things and identify them.”Officials so far have identified 13,068 abandoned mines in and around BLM land in New Mexico, the bureau’s records show. Of the mines identified, federal officials say 8,956 of New Mexico’s abandoned mines “need analysis.”
According to Auby, that means “you recognize that there’s waste rock piles and maybe pits and standing water. And perhaps there could be contamination from heavy metals.”Officials, however, say New Mexico’s arid environment diminishes the possibility of pressurized water pushing out old mining waste like it did from the Gold King Mine in Colorado.Close to 90 percent of the mines identified by the BLM — 11,751 mines in New Mexico — have not been remediated, according an analysis of the data by The New Mexican.The agency’s records show that officials located waste rock and tailings in 260 of those mines, including 20 in the Cerrillos Hills Mining District. The highest concentration of abandoned mines with waste rock and tailings, 56, is in the southwestern Hillsboro Mining District, where deposits of gold and silver have driven booms and busts for towns like Silver City for more than a century.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for causing the Colorado spill and failing to communicate with New Mexico in a timely manner about its fallout.“It’s a site to see,” the governor said at a news conference in Farmington after catching a view of the waste from a helicopter, “one we would have never expected to have in New Mexico and to have the EPA responsible for it.”She said the state would do “everything it takes” to hold the federal agency accountable for the spill. And she’s blasted the EPA for slow communication with the state about the toxic spill.“I’m hoping they will hold themselves to the same standards that they would hold any other industry or business,” she told Fox News on Aug. 11. “There will be — I’m not taking anything off of the table,” she said when asked if the state would launch a criminal probe into the EPA. “Right now we have people preparing for a lawsuit, if that’s what we need to do.
”Martinez’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department says on its website that “the numbers of abandoned mines in the state are so numerous that one can only guess at the quantity.”“Some of them are small and not considered dangerous,” state officials say on the Web page. “Others are extremely dangerous. The [Abandoned Mine Land] Program estimates that there are approximately 15,000 abandoned mine features throughout the state.”John Kretzmann, manager of the department’s Abandoned Mine Land Program, has worked to identify and remediate abandoned mines in the state for decades.
He praised Martinez’s announcement that she would put at least $750,000 into addressing the fallout from the Gold King Mine spill.“There’s room for assistance for other abandoned land mine issues as well,” Kretzmann added.The state established the Abandoned Mine Land Program after President Jimmy Carter signed the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 into law.Congress wrote the federal law to address environmental impacts left from coal mining. That’s why the state program has attempted to reclaim and secure coal mines since its passage. There’s no dedicated funding source to clean up abandoned hard-rock mines — those that produce gold, silver, lead, copper, zinc — though the 1977 law does allow for coal funds to be put toward remediating hard-rock mines.
“We don’t do cleanup unless it’s at a coal site,” said Randall Armijo, an environmental coordinator who works under Kretzmann.Kretzmann said he believes “a comprehensive inventory would be a very good step so we know what’s out there, where it is, and then we can take appropriate steps to find the funding and work to safeguard and reduce the hazards of those abandoned mines.”He said he’d like to see studies conducted on some of the “mine waste rock piles that have been sitting out in the environment for sometimes over a century here. It’d be nice to know if those are — even though they’re not constantly weeping water or something like that — whether those are spreading contamination into the environment in any way.”He wants to know “whether there are any … minerals that cattle or people are being exposed to through the old mine waste piles.
“I’m not aware that a lot of study has been done — particularly in this semi-arid type of environment — on how those metal and other contaminants move through the environment,” he added.He said the department is working with the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology on “the possibility of at least beginning to do some preliminary work” to identify abandoned mines in New Mexico.“But that’s not a sure thing at this point,” he added.PrioritiesNavid Mojtabai, chairman of New Mexico Tech’s Department of Mineral Engineering, said $100,000 to $200,000 would help the department and the state compile an inventory of abandoned mines “for a really limited area” and then try to evaluate the conditions of those mines, their stability and whether they have waste rock piles.
“This is something that takes time and energy and a lot of work to evaluate just to find out what’s there,” he said.The state Abandoned Mine Land Program’s database includes an inventory of just over 3,000 abandoned mines in New Mexico, including mines on private land.Some $24.4 million has gone toward safeguarding and reclaiming 261 abandoned mines in New Mexico, according to state records.Kretzmann said the program follows a prioritization scheme set up by the 1977 mining law.“Under the provisions of this act, the first priority is public health and safety,” Kretzmann said. “And in general, what that means is mine openings that are hazardous to people. So that’s generally the first priority. The second priority is the same but is of a less immediate or hazardous nature. And third priority is environmental, you know, impacts: waters, lands that have been adversely impacted by historic mining practices.
”The EPA has listed five mine sites in New Mexico on its Superfund or national priorities lists — some of the most hazardous sites in the nation. Cleanup at the Chevron mine in Questa, a Superfund site near the Red River mined for molybdenum, is still underway, according to the EPA.Rachel Conn, the interim executive director of the nonprofit Amigos Bravos, points out that Chevron, which has contributed to the cleanup, is suing the Environmental Protection Agency to contribute a bigger share to the cleanup, arguing that the government encouraged the mining.In New Mexico, state officials have successfully made similar arguments about the federal government’s responsibility to clean up uranium mining waste in places like the uranium belt in Grants — pointing to the fact that demand for the chemical element increased during the Cold War.
Conn, whose group lobbied for the Superfund status of the Questa mine, said the 1993 New Mexico Mining Act provides strong provisions to ensure that more mines aren’t abandoned without proper environmental reclamation.“Companies can’t leave a mine without performing adequate regulation,” she said. “They have to create a self-sustaining ecosystem before they walk away.”But she said 1872 legislation signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant to encourage mining needs to be changed.Pete Dronkers follows hard-rock mining issues in Southwestern states, including New Mexico, for the environmental nonprofit Earthworks. The organization is advocating for congressional changes to the General Mining Act of 1872 that allows hard-rock mining ventures to extract resources without paying royalties or fees to pay for the industry’s past environmental messes in the same way that the coal industry is mandated to pay royalties for cleanup efforts.
“We know that these mines are going to generate acidic runoff for thousands of years,” Dronkers said.He said new mines being permitted — “well over” 1,000 times the size of the Gold King Mine — are allowed to be built with the knowledge “that these sites are going to generate water-treatment liabilities and basically acid mine drainage and pollution problems for thousands of years.”
“And so the question is, ‘Who’s going to pay for that in the future?’ ” he said. “It’s basically like we haven’t learned anything from Gold King, and we’re going to continue to build mines that have that same fundamental problem. But we’re going to build them thousands of times larger.”
The Gila River is New Mexico's last free-flowing river. A former director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Norman Gaume, announced Monday that he’s planning to sue that agency for alleged violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act, and the action might be enough to create a hiccup for a proposal to divert water from the Gila River. - See more at: http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/article-9228-gila-hiccup.html#sthash.30ojEGhJ.dpuf
Originating in America's first wilderness, the Gila is rich in biological diversity and cultural history. The Gila's natural flows support outstanding examples of southwest riparian forest, the highest concentrations of breeding birds in America including the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher, a nearly intact native fish community including the endangered loach minnow and spike dace, and the threatened Gila trout.
The Gila provides significant economic value to the region through outdoor recreation and wilderness experience.
In 2004, Congress passed the Arizona Water Settlements Act (AWSA) that authorized diversion of the Gila River if New Mexico agreed to buy water from Arizona to replace what we take out of the river. The AWSA provided $66M for community water projects to meet local water needs and a perverse incentive of up to $62M more if New Mexico elects to divert the Gila River.
Proposed Gila River diversion projects are estimated by the state to cost $349 million, leaving NM taxpayers responsible for the balance - $220 million or more.
A Gila River diversion project is unnecessary, expensive and will harm the Gila River.
An overwhelming majority of New Mexicans believe we should use our current water supplies more wisely and protect the Gila River for people, wildlife and future generations.
Southwestern New Mexico's future water needs can be met cost-effectively through non-diversion alternatives, such as municipal and agricultural conservation, sustainable groundwater management, effluent reuse and watershed restoration.
Tell Governor Susana Martinez to support cost effective, non-diversion alternatives to meet southwest New Mexico's future water needs.
Sign the petition at www.change.org/
For more information and to find out how you can help go to http://protectthegila.org/
NM Supreme Court to Review Copper Rule!
SANTA FE, NM- The New Mexico Supreme Court has granted the petition filed by our legal council, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), requesting review of the Copper Rule. The Copper Rule regulates discharges from copper mines in New Mexico. The Supreme Court order, dated June 13th, states that it will review all the issues raised in the petition.
"We are gratified that the State Supreme Court will review the challenges to the Copper Rule," says Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC Executive Director. "This is a very important issue for New Mexico because of our reliance on ground water, and allowing an entire industry such as the copper mining industry to pollute ground water makes no sense. Our clients are not trying to stop copper mining; they are trying to ensure that copper mining does not pollute ground water."The Copper Rule has been the subject of controversy since its adoption in 2013. In 2015 the Court of Appeals upheld the adoption of the Rule. The NMELC represents Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP), Turner Ranch Properties, L.P., and Amigos Bravos in opposition to the Court of Appeals decision. The State Attorney General and a former State Groundwater Bureau Chief have also filed petitions with the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has granted the petitions filed by all parties and has ordered a review of all issues raised. "As communities throughout the state are confronted by the critical impacts of long-term drought, it is irresponsible to allow mining companies to pollute our precious groundwater that is needed by everyone," says Allyson Siwik, GRIP Executive Director. "This is a precedent setting case and the New Mexico Supreme Court needs to restore the integrity of our Water Quality Act so that it protects groundwater for all of us.""Thirty years before the copper rule was adopted, the copper mining industry demonstrated that it could exist subject to the same ground water protection requirements that apply to other industries. The Copper Rule violates the State Water Quality Act's mandate that ground water be protected. We hope that the Supreme Court will agree with us," says Meiklejohn.The Supreme Court order states a briefing schedule, if any, will follow.
Doug Meiklejohn, NM Environmental Law Center, 505.989.9022
Allyson Siwik, Gila Resources Information Project, 575.590.7619
Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575.758.3874
At a hearing on January 8th 2014, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) - a state decision-making entity responsible for protecting New Mexico's water - voted down a Motion to Stay the Copper Rule. In September 2013, the WQCC adopted the Copper Rule, which would allow contamination of groundwater beneath copper mine sites in New Mexico. The stay would have prevented the new Rule from being used by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) in copper mine permitting decisions while the Copper Rule is under appeal in the NM Court of Appeals. For more details, click here to see the Press Release.On October 10th, 2013, an appeal of the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission’s (WQCC) adoption of copper mining groundwater regulations was filed by Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP) and Turner Ranch Properties, L.P., represented by New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC), and Amigos Bravos represented by High Desert Energy + Environment Law Partners. The groups are challenging the adopted copper mining rules because they expressly allow water pollution rather than prevent it. Proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department and the global copper mining company, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, the rules mark the first time in 36 years that the WQCC has set aside its mandate to protect the quality of the state's scarce groundwater resources. For more information on this development, please see the Press Release.On September 10, 2013, the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) voted 9-1 to adopt the proposed water quality rules for the copper mining industry. Click here for the press release with more information. After an 8-month stakeholder process to develop a draft rule that would be protective of groundwater at copper mine sites and provide regulatory certainty to industry, NMED upper-level managers ignored the recommendations of their technical staff and NMED Advisory Committee and rewrote the proposed rule. Despite all of the scientific evidence we submitted, and a huge public outcry in favor of protecting New Mexico's precious drinking water, we did not expect a favorable decision by the WQCC, which is composed of Governor Martinez appointees.Amigos Bravos represented by High Desert Energy + Environment Law Partners, oppose the adopted rules on grounds that they violate the protections afforded under the Water Quality Act. Therefore, we the parties appeal the decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals along with Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP) and Turner Enterprises represented by New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC).
The adopted rules:
- Give the mining industry the right to pollute.
- Are in direct conflict with the State Water Quality Act that requires polluters to prevent groundwater contamination during their operations.
- Give the mining industry the right to pollute future drinking water supplies and impact the health of people and communities.
- Could pave the way for other polluters to demand similar rollbacks in water quality safeguards. This would lower the cost of doing business for the polluter while transferring the cost of clean up and the cost to address public health outcomes to New Mexico taxpayers.