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.”