At the end of last year, a state judge chipped away at a company’s plans to reopen a long-abandoned copper mine near Hillsboro. On Dec. 28, New Mexico Third Judicial District Court Judge James J. Wechsler found that most of the water rights claimed by the company are not valid. New Mexico Copper Corporation (NMCC) planned to use groundwater rights that two men purchased after operations were abandoned at Copper Flat Mine in 1982. William Frost and Harris Gray, along with NMCC and its attorneys, tried to show that those rights were still valid, even though the water hadn’t been put to use over the past four decades—or even when the mine operated.
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will not issue final regulations requiring mining companies to prove before beginning work that they have the financial means to clean up pollution from their mines. The agency has decided the regulations are not “appropriate.”
According to a statement from the agency, Administrator Scott Pruitt said the requirements were unnecessary. “After careful analysis of public comments, the statutory authority, and the record for this rulemaking, EPA is confident that modern industry practices, along with existing state and federal requirements address risks from operating hardrock mining facilities,” Pruitt said. “Additional financial assurance requirements are unnecessary and would impose an undue burden on this important sector of the American economy and rural America, where most of these mining jobs are based.”
Last year, the Obama administration issued a draft rule, which garnered more than 11,000 public comments. Hardrock mines include metals like copper, iron and lead.
Turning off I-25, south of Truth or Consequences, drivers head west through long, open stretches of creosote bush and honey mesquite. On stormy days the scent of rain on that Chihuahuan desert scrub sneaks its way into cars and trucks, even through closed windows. It’s only a 30-minute drive from the interstate to Hillsboro, but the trip is reminder that small communities in the southwestern part of the state still have a close relationship with the land—and with history. Only about 100 people live in Hillsboro, which today includes a smattering of houses and galleries, a post office and the General Store and Cafe on the south side of Percha Creek. But at its peak in the 1880s, the town was more than 10 times that size.