I am writing to applaud the commendable efforts made by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Superfund Law in the cleaning up at the Chevron Questa Mine near the village of Questa in Taos County, New Mexico, with reservations.
According to the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, “mining generates twice as much hazardous waste material as all other industries and municipal landfills combined.”
A major obstacle in nullifying mining toxic waste is that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also have to contend with the federal 1872 mining law which has been interpreted as having an absolute right to mine on public lands regardless of potential environmental damage.
The law was conceived during the industrial age of the 19th Century to encourage migration to the western United States and to bolster western mining in order to feed a nation undergoing an industrial growth spurt.
Then in 1993, the New Mexico Mining Act was passed to counter the earlier law of 1872. New regulations have been placed to ensure that the law is enforced as it was intended.
Battles are been held to force large world corporations to be held accountable for cleaning up lands and water that they have contaminated. An article in The Los Angeles Times dated Feb. 26, 2009, produced a commentary titled “Stricter Cleanup Rules for the Mining Industry?” A federal judge ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency “must close a 29-year-old loophole making it possible for polluting industries to avoid paying for hazardous waste cleanups by declaring bankruptcy. The mining industry which generates more than 2 billion pounds of toxic waste each year may be the most affected by the decision.”
In New Mexico, conservationists tried for years to getMolycorp/Chevron Molybdenum Mine near Questa to clean up toxins released into the Red River and ground water. It was in 2002 when Molycorp set aside $152 million for a cleanup that could cost $400 million.
Amigos Bravos was one of four environmental groups that sued the EPA for its failure to issue financial assurance regulations, making companies financially accountable for cleanups. The loophole had existed since 1980, the same date that the Superfund Law was passed.
Lawmakers were to put financial accountability regulations in force within three years. The regulations were never executed.
In Questa, the Superfund Law should be better monitored so that its requirements are enforced. According to the “fact sheet” dated September 2012, treated toxic hazardous contaminated dirt, dug up from the mill, was to be buried with EPA approval on an off-site facility. I believe that the site adhered to, must be the polluted lake located above the Questa village! Allowing that site to continue to be used as a dump for mining waste is an unacceptable decision which should be revisited.
In retrospect, and upon following the pollution conflict over the years, it appears that the question at issue not only involves the polluting of the aquifer in the Questa area, but all of the underground water in Northern New Mexico. It is a woeful fact that the Red River empties into the Río Grande which in turn flows through Taos, Española, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, etc.!
I am a native of Questa with relatives dating back several hundred years; and I am extremely concerned with the damage that is occurring there. Jobs are important and our water is our life, but so is the beautiful Questa environment. Molycorp/Chevron must show much more respect for the earth and its citizens.
Arno E. Córdova is a resident of Questa.