• Background

    Copper mining rules

    The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) adopted the new copper mining rules, which became effective December 1, 2013. These rules represent an important step forward and much-needed improvement over the previous ad-hoc, inconsistent permitting process to determine the measures needed to protect ground water quality. The new rules outline clear expectations for the way copper mining operations are designed to protect ground water in New Mexico today and years after mining operations cease.

    These new rules are required because of legislative changes to the New Mexico Water Quality Act. In 2009, the New Mexico legislature amended the Water Quality Act to require the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) to adopt specific rules for the copper mining industry. The rules must specify the measures to be taken to prevent water pollution and to monitor water quality. The purpose of the rules is to provide the copper mining industry with clearly defined requirements for preventing ground water and surface water pollution and to ensure consistent regulatory compliance rather than determining requirements on a case-by-case basis.

    Beginning in January of 2012, NMED conducted extensive technical and advisory group meetings with representatives of industry, federal and state government agencies, experts from academic institutions and environmental groups to seek input in the development and the content of the proposed copper mining rules. These meetings were conducted in accordance with a schedule approved by the WQCC and entailed extensive discussions and collaboration among a very diverse group of interests. A draft of the proposed copper mining rules recommended by the NMED was made available to the public on September 13, 2012.

    The final rules were adopted by the WQCC in September 2013, effective December 1, 2013. The WQCC’s adoption of the rules was upheld unanimously by The Court of Appeals in April 2015.