NMELC and clients, protecting the environment.

ISSUES – MINING IN NEW MEXICO


Mining, long a major industry in New Mexico, has had a severe environmental impact on public and private lands and rural communities in the state. Modern mining involves:

• Contamination of land and water with toxic leachate elements such as cyanide and mercury
• Acid Rock Drainage, a perpetual water-pollution problem if left untreated
• Dangerous high walls and mine pits on public lands

On a national level, mining generates twice as much hazardous waste as all other industries and municipal landfills combined.

Federal Mining Law of 1872

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also have to contend with the federal 1872 Mining Law which has been interpreted as an absolute right to mine on public lands anywhere an ore body is found regardless of potential environmental damage. The law was conceived during the Industrial Age of the 19th century to encourage migration to the western United States, and to help bolster western mining in order to feed a nation undergoing an industrial growth spurt.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also have to contend with the federal 1872 Mining Law which has been interpreted as an absolute right to mine on public lands anywhere an ore body is found regardless of potential environmental damage. The law was conceived during the industrial Age of the 19th century to encourage migration to the western United States, and to help bolster western mining in order to feed a nation undergoing an industrial growth spurt.

For more information on the 1872 Mining Law and efforts to amend it, please visit Earthworks webpage on the 1872 Mining Law.

New Mexico Mining Act of 1993

Aware of these problems and of the need for state legislation (New Mexico was one of two states without a hard-rock mining law until March, 1993), the Law Center joined a coalition working for reform. In early 1992, the Law Center conducted a statewide poll concerning both the 1872 Mining Law and state mining issues; the poll found that New Mexicans overwhelmingly support reform of the federal laws and better regulation of mining at the state level. In 1993, the Law Center, along with our allies in the Mining Action Network, pushed the legislatures of our state to pass the New Mexico Mining Act.

The Law Center has been a state leader in ensuring that regulators enforce the law as it was intended. Since the passage of the Mining Act, we have participated in nearly every major hardrock mine permitting proceeding in the state. We have succeeded in persuading the State to mandate some of the highest reclamation bonds in the nation, and have won battles to ensure that some of the world's largest corporations are held accountable for cleaning up the lands and waters that they have contaminated.

Current major mining cases:




For more information about uranium mining, please see our page on the HRI-ENDAUM case.