MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

This summer SRIC Mining Analyst Paul Robinson has been extremely busy with review and analysis of technical documents related to the two largest mines in the history of New Mexico, Chino Mines at Santa Rita and Molycorp at Questa. The goals for these activities are to insure that the mine operations are accountable for the full range of environmental impacts of their operations and that their owners provide full financial assurance to guarantee effective reclamation for the pits, piles and dumps they produce.

Our work on the Chino operations has been on behalf of the United Steelworkers of America Local 890 and involved the mine's groundwater discharge permit, mining operation permit and its Toxic Release inventory reports. This work is a continuation of our evaluation of Chino plans which also include a proposed land exchange involving lands near the Kneeling Nun, a prominent natural landmark in the region, also done on behalf of the local and concerned citizens. SRIC's analysis of 38 spills from Chino's tailings pipelines between 1989 and March, 1998 was the primary basis for Local 890 seeking the requirement of a new pipeline system for future operations at Chino as part if its groundwater protection program. The existing pipeline has design defects known by Chino and New Mexico state agencies since at least 1992 and is buried in a trench filled with a Chino waste materials with acid generating potential. Construction of a new pipeline in a open lined and monitored channel would be a strong application of pollution prevention technology at Chino, in sharp contrast to the "leak reporting-spill remediation" approach currently allowed by New Mexico agencies.

Our work on the Molycorp operation has been on behalf of Amigos Bravos and continues twenty years of work with Taos County residents on the impacts of the Molycorp mine, waste rock, pipelines and tailings piles. This work has included demonstration of the continuation of tailings area seepage beyond the control wells and barriers installed by Molycorp upstream of homes in Questa and the evaluation of major future expansion plans which Molycorp is claiming as part of its "existing mine operation" under the New Mexico Mining Act. Molycorp has described a 1500-acre subsidence zone associated with the future expansion of its underground mine as part of its "existing operation", a subsidence zone which would underlie currently existing waste rock piles containing more than 100,000,000 tons of waste rock and the long-inactive open pit at the site. This 1500 acre subsidence zone is more than 300 times the size of the actual collapse zone now in existence at the mine site.

These efforts are part of SRIC's long-standing mining activities highlighted by the legislative and technical work during 1990-1993 which, in cooperation with community groups from around the state, which resulted in the passage of the innovative New Mexico Mining Act. Our current work with Local 890, Amigos Bravos and concerned citizens in the affected areas provides a framework for monitoring the implementation of that Act for the two gigantic mines and establishes national precedent for financial assurance and reclamation planning at major multi-generational mines currently in operation.

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