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Voices from the Earth Volume 1 Number 1
Molycorp Clean-Up Battle Far From Over

Since residents of the Village of Questa, in northern New Mexico, first pulled dead fish from Molycorp's molybdenum operation's tailings pond in the 1960s, the environmental impacts of mining have been all too clear to local residents. Located along the Red River 25 miles north of the town of Taos, Questa is home to 1,500 people including small scale farmers irrigating with water from the river as well as to tourism and fishery industries dependent on the river. Molycorp is a major employer in the area, yet many residents are engaged in efforts to pursue the clean-up of the river and other damage from Molycorp. Recent work on the problem has been lead by Amigos Bravos, a Taos-based citizen organization, supported by technical assistance from SRIC's Paul Robinson and other experts.

Scarring the Landscape: Aerial view of Molycorp mine in Questa, New Mexico, in 1999. (Photo by Paul Robinson)

For more than 20 years, Paul has worked with people from Questa and Taos County to clean up existing pollution and prevent future damage from the more than 400 million tons of waste rock and tailings at the mines, pits and dumps at Molycorp's mine and mill complex. The Amigos Bravos campaign is moving through a critical stage this year, focused on the development of a comprehensive mine and mill tailings reclamation plan for the sites and securing the financial guarantees necessary to assure that reclamation.

Paul's work has been fundamental to the development of an "Amigos Bravos' Full Reclamation and Closure Plan for Molycorp Operations" prepared by Jim Kuipers, mining engineer at the Center for Science in Public Participation (CSPP) of Bozeman, Montana. The proposal describes the environmental, engineering and fiscal necessity for a $380 million bond to address the range of mine, mill tailings, groundwater and surface water problems resulting from Molycorp operations.

This proposal was presented for the first time at a state hearing in Questa in June, 2000. In contrast to the Amigos Bravos plan, the state of New Mexico's recommendation for reclamation-related financial assurance totaled $178 million, not including the mill tailings site or Red River restoration. Molycorp introduced, during the rebuttal phase of the hearing, a financial assurance estimate of only $50 million for the mine site alone.

A decision from the groundwater hearing is anticipated in October, and Paul and Amigos Bravos anticipate a challenging work load over the next year. Molycorp's operations will be the subject of New Mexico Mining Act hearings, New Mexico Environment Department groundwater discharge plan hearings on the mill tailings, Superfund proceedings, and EPA Clean Water Act discharge permit deliberations.

Participation in the hearings from Questa residents has been strong, led by Amigos Bravos Board member Roberto Vigil, Tony Trujillo, Joe Cisneros and SRIC Board member Wilfred Rael. As a community whose history is tied closely to the Red River, Questa's future is intimately, and ultimately, tied to the restoration of the river and the long-term control of pollution from the mine.


Amigos Bravos
P.O. Box 238
Taos, NM 87571
Tel. 505-758-3874
Fax 505-758-7345
Attn.: Brian Shield/Pat McCabe

Center for Science in Public Participation
224 N. Church Ave.
Bozeman, MT 59715
Tel. 406-585-9854
Fax 406-585-2260
Attn.: Jim Kuipers or Dave Chambers

Western Environmental Law Center
P.O. Box 1507
Taos, NM 87571
Tel. 505-751-0351
Fax 505-751-1775
Attn.: Lynn Sferrazza or Grove Burnett

Mineral Policy Center
1612 K Street, NW Suite 808
Washington, DC 20006
Tel. 202-887-1872
Fax 202-887-1875
Attn.: Steve D'Esposito


Dan Randolph
Southwest Circuit Rider/MPC
P.O. Box 2414
Durango, CO 81302
Tel. 970-380-0421
Fax 970-382-0114
E-mail: drandolph@mineralpolicy.org

Taos Pueblo Environmental Department
P.O. Box 1846
Taos, NM 87571
Tel. 505-751-4601

Community Partners
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– W.H. Murray in The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

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