The New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) goal is to promote a safe, clean and productive environment throughout the State, which includes establishing and enforcing the New Mexico Copper Mining Rules, as well as amending and improving regulations when warranted. NMED implements and enforces rules of the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) pursuant to the Water Quality Act for the prevention and abatement of water pollutions.
NMED began issuing discharge permits for copper mines in the late 1970s. Currently, there are 27 discharge permits for copper mining facilities in New Mexico. The NMED’s purpose in issuing discharge permits and imposing requirements and conditions is to control the discharge of impacted water that may move directly or indirectly into groundwater during operations and closure.
On April 8, 2009, Senate Bill 206 (SB 206) was passed by the New Mexico Legislature and signed by Governor Richardson. SB-206 amended the Water Quality Act to require rules specifying the methods for prevention of water pollution and monitoring of water quality. It required the WQCC to adopt specific rules for the dairy and copper mining industries.
In January 2012, the WQCC adopted a schedule for development of Copper Mine Rules. On September 13, 2012, NMED publically issued a draft of the Copper Mine Rules and began conducting public meetings in Albuquerque and Silver City. In October 2012, stakeholder negotiations were conducted, as well as submission of a petition for hearing and proposed rules to WQCC and request to set a public hearing before the WQCC to consider the rules as proposed by NMED. The public hearing began on April 9, 2013, and culminated in the adoption of the current Copper Rule by the WQCC. The final rule was published in the New Mexico Register on October 31, 2013 as 20.6.7 NMAC, to be effective on December 1, 2013.
The rules will guide the future issuance and renewal of discharge permits. The public will be notified of permit applications and proposed permits, just as they have in the past. Public comments and requests for public hearings will be considered by NMED.
In April 2015, following an appeal of the Copper Mine Rules by several environmental organizations, and the Attorney General, the New Mexico Court of Appeals issued a decision upholding the rules by unanimous vote.
Additional information can be found here in this presentation from NMED.