BLM’s District Manager describes differences in Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements on New Mexico Copper Corporation

by Kathleen Sloan | May 16, 2020
4 min read
​The final and draft environmental impact statements prepared by the Bureau of Land Management in its assessment of the New Mexico Copper Corporation stack more than a foot high and they are highly technical documents.

For that reason, Bill Childress, district manager for the BLM, Las Cruces District, was asked and agreed to pick out the differences in the draft and final environmental impact statements. The comparison may reveal what the agency deemed deficient in the draft environmental impact statement, after taking public comments on it for four months. 

The first environmental impact statement came out November 23, 2015. Two public hearings were held, at Hillsboro and Truth or Consequences, mid-December 2015. Written comments were taken from November 23, 2015 to April 4, 2016. There are over 400 files, some duplicates in different formats, containing written comments. The second environmental impact statement came out March 20, 2017. 

The BLM issued its Record of Decision on Aug. 22, 2019, allowing New Mexico Copper Corporation to operate. 

The ROD is contingent on two things happening. 

First, the company must still obtain water-rights approval from the Office of the State Engineer sufficient to operate the mine. The final EIS statement estimates NMCC needs 6,100 acre feet of ground water per year to mine 30,000 tons of ore a day “resulting in 125 million tons of ore processed over the life of the mine,” a BLM press release states. 

It must also finalize its deal with the Jicarilla Apache Nation to put about 2,000 acre feet a year of the tribe’s water into the Rio Grande upstream to offset the 100 years it is estimated it will take the river to recover from 12 years of pumping 6,100 acre feet a year of ground water near the river. 

The BLM knew the mine’s “impact would be significant,” Childress said, triggering the more rigorous environmental impact statement instead of an environmental assessment. The BLM prepared the draft and final statements with four cooperating agencies, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the New Mexico Environment Department, The New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. 

Summarizing the company’s application, a BLM press release stated,“The New Mexico Copper Corporation (Copper Corporation) is seeking approval from the BLM to reestablish a poly-metallic mine and processing facility located near Hillsboro, New Mexico. The 2,190- acre project would utilize BLM-managed public land and private property, and would produce copper, gold, silver, and molybdenum. The Project would provide Copper Corporation access to conduct mining activities in Sierra County on public land, leading to the extraction and processing of copper ore.” 

Between the draft and final EIS, Childress said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a biological assessment on threatened and endangered species on the mining site. This resulted in “New Mexico Copper adding two voluntary design features,” Childress said. 

One has already been mentioned—the water-use deal with the Jicarilla Apache Nation, not only to offset impacts to the Rio Grande, but also “to offset Caballo Lake impacts and to meet the Rio Grande Compact,” Childress said. 

Sidelight explanation of the Rio Grande Compact: Texas sued New Mexico in 2013 for violating the Compact by allowing groundwater pumping that has lessened water deliveries it claims it is due.Texas also named Colorado as a defendant, but claimed no action against it. The United States tried to enter the case, mirroring Texas’ argument. The case worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed the United States to enter the case and then referring the case to a Special Master in 2018. Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and the United States are preparing to go before the Special Master.
Childress gave more detail on the water offset NMCC is worked out with the Jicarilla Apache Nation. “Depletion to the Rio Grande is projected to peak around 2,080 acre feet a year at the end of mining; then reduce to 28 acre feet a year 100 years after mining. New Mexico Copper Corporation (NMCC) has committed to offset the effects of reduced discharge to the Rio Grande system during and after the operation of the Copper Flat Mine to ensure no net reduction in flows of the Rio Grande, in a manner approved by the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. NMCC has procured a lease for water from the Jicarilla Apache Nation (Nation) that has been approved by the United States Secretary of the Interior.”

The second voluntary accommodation submitted by NMCC concerns protections to the Chiricahua Leopard Frog’s habitat, Childress said. 

Another difference between the draft and final EIS is, “We improved the green-house gasses,” Childress said. “We did a more robust analysis on the trucks to be used to transport the ore.” 

The water-impact assessment did not change from the first to second environmental impact statement, Childress said, qualifying that “The Office of the State Engineer decides if there is enough water in the aquifer,” referring to the 6,100 acre feet a year NMCC proposes to withdraw. 

There is no time-clock on the Aug. 22, 2019 Record of Decision “Mining Plan of Operation,” Childress said. “The MPO is valid until new information is obtained that would require an amendment and the potential for additional environmental analysis.” 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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