SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Attorney General Gary King, environmentalists and a New Mexico ranch owned by billionaire media mogul Ted Turner went to court Thursday to overturn new state regulations on groundwater pollution by copper mines.
King, the Gila Resources Information Project, Amigos Bravos and Turner Ranch Properties filed an appeal with the state Court of Appeals to challenge rules adopted last month by the Water Quality Control Commission.
Critics say the rules provide mining companies too much leeway to pollute groundwater and violate state law prohibiting water contamination above certain standards.
“Ninety percent of New Mexicans rely on groundwater for drinking water and this new rule, if allowed to be implemented, could render our water undrinkable for hundreds of years,” King, a Democrat who is running for governor next year, said in a statement.
Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the state Environment Department, said the agency wasn’t surprised by the appeal because the environmental groups “have proven to oppose extractive industries for decades in New Mexico.”
He said the commission’s rules “are the most stringent and environmentally protective regulatory requirements in the country and we are confident the rules will be upheld.”
Turner, who founded CNN, owns the Ladder Ranch in southern New Mexico and it’s near a copper mine in Sierra County that a company wants to reopen.
The commission voted 9-1 in September to approve the water quality rules for copper mines, but the member who dissented has since resigned, citing work demands in his job as a university geologist.
Bruce Frederick, a lawyer for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said, “We are appealing this rule because we think it’s unconstitutional and diametrically opposed to the commission’s express statutory mandate, which is to prevent water pollution.”
The center represents the Turner Ranch and Gila Resources Information Project. The commission is administratively attached to the Environment Department and its members include appointees of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez as well as several of her agency officials.