• The New Mexico Copper Rules Fact Sheet

    Copper Rules Fact Sheet

    The Copper Rules are an improvement to the current process for regulating copper mining operations, establishing clear, consistent ground water protection regulations and imposing scientifically-based ground water protection requirements. They address ground water beneath mining operations, not drinking water. Impacts to drinking water are not and will not be permitted.

    How the Copper Rules Were Developed

    In 2009, the New Mexico Legislature determined the framework for regulating ground water at copper mines was broken and needed to be fixed. Arbitrary and inconsistent, the current framework does not clearly define how ground water should be regulated and protected at copper mines, making it very difficult for mining companies to plan, hire, and make investments in New Mexico while also adding time, expense and uncertainty to state regulatory agencies charged with regulating mining. Consequently, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 206, which was signed by Governor Bill Richardson. The law requires the State to adopt regulations that clearly set forth the appropriate technologies to manage ground water impacts from copper mining operations.

    An advisory committee, directed by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and composed of representatives of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (NMEMNRD), industry representatives (including Freeport-McMoRan), several environmental groups, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and other experts in the field met monthly over a six-month period. After considering their input, as well as comments made at public hearings, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued a full set of draft rules for public comment on September 13, 2012. The public process facilitated by NMED was a very inclusive one, and many different viewpoints were considered.

    After considering public comments, NMED filed a petition with the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) on October 30, 2012 requesting that the WQCC set a hearing to take evidence and consider adoption of the rules. The WQCC held a public hearing beginning on April 9, 2013 and concluding on April 30, 2013 to allow technical testimony and public comment to be heard and also held a meeting in Silver City on May 3, 2013 to receive additional public comments from local residents. Following the receipt and consideration of the technical testimony, public comments, legal briefs and closing arguments by the parties in support of NMED’s proposal and other parties who sought changes to the rule language, the WQCC met on September 10, 2013 to deliberate on the adoption of the Copper Rules. The WQCC voted to adopt the Copper Rules as proposed by NMED at that meeting.

    The final version of the Copper Rules as adopted by the WQCC was published in the New Mexico Register on October 31, 2013 as 20.6.7 NMAC, and became effective on December1, 2013. While many individual interest groups offered modifications in line with their own interests, the adopted Copper Rules balance the concerns and priorities of a wide variety of stakeholders.

    Environmental Protection

    The Copper Rules establish strict, consistent, clear, and comprehensive design, operational and closure requirements for protecting the quality of ground water impacted by copper mining operations today and after operations cease. The Copper Rules include:

    • New design features for new facilities and the expansion of existing facilities that are specifically intended to protect ground water;
    • New criteria for closing a mine, including re-grading land and installing groundcover to minimize infiltration of precipitation into and through mined materials that might otherwise reach ground water;
    • New engineering design requirements for waste rock, leach stockpiles and impoundments; and
    • Clear and specific design technology requirements for impoundments, tanks and pipelines.

    Economic Impact

    The Copper Rules improve New Mexico’s ability to attract new mining investment and create jobs in this critical industry. These clear and transparent rules allow copper mining companies, like Freeport-McMoRan, to more effectively plan and invest in their operations in the state. Although the new rules are more onerous than current requirements, they replace the former ad hoc process with a scientifically-based framework recommended and endorsed by the New Mexico Environment Department and its technical experts. This new framework will provide certainty to the industry, and encourage additional investment and job creation in New Mexico.