The New Mexico Copper Rule, by granting new rights to the companies, actually endangers the state’s ground water resources, by loosening restrictions on where copper mines can be dug.
“Make no mistake,” said the New Mexico Environment of the big legal fight over what is called The Copper Rule, “the future of mining in New Mexico hangs in the balance,”
Which means, for the state budget of New Mexico, big bucks are at stake. In 2013, the latest figures available show that New Mexico’s 10 copper mines generated an estimated $326 million for the state’s economy and employed more than 4,000 people.
If a change in the state’s water law, promulgated by a state commission Gov. Susana Martinez appointed and a state agency that reports to her, is rolled back, she and her appointees say, those desperately needed revenues and jobs will go away.
The conventional typology of environmental law is that the plaintiffs, the ones always fighting for stronger protections of our land, air, or, particularly in the American Southwest, water are idealists. Well meaning, to be sure, but kind of absolute in their defense of Nature. Their antagonists, the defenders of making a buck or creating a job from what Nature offers, call themselves realists. For them, a clean environment is just one value among many.
Well, let’s introduce a little reality into the Governor’s defense of profit and employment.
In late 2010, when talk in NM political circles of easing water restrictions on the dairy and copper industries was moving from discussion to legislation, the world price of copper was at a peak…roughly $4.50 a pound. By 2013, when the new Copper Rule took effect, the price had slipped, then rallied to $3.50 a pound. It’s been downhill ever since, a 3 year slide which has copper prices below $2.20 a pound.
Following that same timeline, the stock price of New Mexico’s dominant copper miner, the huge multi-national Freeport-McMor-Ran follows an even more dramatic downward course. In late 2010, it peaked at $60 a share, in 2013, when the rule went into effect to stock brought between $28 and $37 a share. Today, after a plunger below $5 on New Year’s Day, Freeport-McMo-Ran is selling for $10.30 a share.
Big profits? New jobs? Not in copper, say the people who follow the market, not this year….or probably next.
With money off the table, the NM Supreme Court should be able to consider the the Copper Rule strictly for its potential effects on the environment…which, our guest today, Douglas Meiklejohn, executive director of the NM Environmental Law Center is exactly the way the state Constitution would have it done.
Douglas Meiklejohn, Executive Director, New Mexico Environmental Law Center 505-989-9022 |firstname.lastname@example.org