The quality of our drinking water wells is important to me.
I understand that the Copper Rule was challenged in two separate court cases and was upheld/affirmed as being protective of groundwater and in full compliance with the New Mexico Water Quality Act. I also understand that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) conducted extensive hearings on the Copper Flat project Discharge Permit 1840 (DP 1840). I understand that DP 1840 was issued/approved late last year. I understand this is an important environmental control around conventional open pit copper mines.
The problem with House Bill 220, is that it changes the New Mexico Water Quality Act language to change the location where compliance with standards is to be required - at the point where the discharge enters the ground water. While this may appear to be a good thing, this was not the original intent of the Water Quality Act because the legislature understood that some desirable and necessary activities (mining, agriculture, oil and gas activities, and even some discharges from municipalities and septic systems) that support a high quality of life for our citizens will impact some water causing standards not to be met in limited areas. The Copper Rules require the mines to use control technologies, such as liners, to minimize impacts; however, I understand that there is no technology available to eliminate these impacts completely for most copper mines. However, the original drafters of the New Mexico Water Quality Act did intend that the Act would ensure that these impacts are limited and do not impact our precious drinking water.
I am not aware of any copper mine that can meet the standard specified in the proposed re-write contained in House Bill 220. For example, I understand that digging the overburden and ore from an open pit copper mine, will typically expose naturally-occurring minerals that react with the air and storm water, dissolving minerals that cause the water to exceed standards. This water typically comes into contact with ground water within the mine area. I understand that open pit hydraulic sinks and other ground water pumping systems are utilized at Freeport-McMoRan mines to ensure that impacted water is contained within the mine area and that no impacts occur to any drinking water supplies. I understand that the mines collect and recycle the water within their mine processes to further minimize the amount of fresh water needed for their operations. I understand that frequent reviews are conducted by the NMED to audit on behalf of the New Mexico public that all of these systems are functioning as required. So the proposed changes in House Bill 220 would require copper mines and likely other dischargers to meet standards that are not possible for them to comply with and their permits would have to be denied. This would shut down mining. I believe this is an extreme and un-necessary result which we should avoid. I understand that the Copper Rule on the other hand strikes a stringent but achievable compromise - allowing mining to occur, while utilizing available technologies to minimize impacts while protecting our precious water resources and your drinking water.
I heard testimony in legislative hearings that it doesn't matter if the amended Act causes mines to be in violation because they can petition for a variance. But I understand that is not correct because a variance may not be granted from the Act itself as written. For all these reasons, I oppose House Bill 220.
The reasons I oppose House Bill 255, which eliminates the Third Party Guarantee, is because our current Mining Act Rules allow this form of financial assurance. I understand that these rules were modeled after federal environmental rules (requiring stringent financial testing) which allow this form of enforceable financial assurance. I also understand that there has never been a default in New Mexico harming taxpayers where this form of financial assurance was in place. Finally, I understand that Administrations and legislators prior to the Martinez Administration committed to New Mexico mines that this form of financial assurance is allowed when the Act was passed, in the rules and numerous agreements. If the mines met their requirements under those agreements, I believe it is wrong for the State to default on its agreements to the mines.
District 38 Rep. Rebecca Dow