Group Challenges Copper Mine Pollution Law

May 11, 2015

Phelps Dodge copper mine in Arizona
Credit Geologue via Flickr

An environmental law firm in Santa Fe is petitioning the state Supreme Court to overturn a law that allows copper mines to pollute groundwater. 

As the law stands, companies can allow toxic drainage to seep into the groundwater beneath their copper mines, as long as the pollution stays within a designated perimeter. But New Mexico Environmental Law Center director Douglas Meiklejohn says that’s a violation of the state’s Water Quality Act.

"There’s a great deal of groundwater that’s being polluted pursuant to this rule," he said. "And when you consider that groundwater is the source of drinking water for 9 out of 10 people in this state, it just doesn’t make any sense."

Meiklejohn says polluted groundwater could migrate offsite, and current copper mining rules might open the door for other industries to argue that they are entitled to pollute as well.

An appeals court upheld the copper mining law last month, after a challenge by a coalition of environmental groups and landowners.