The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the State of New Mexico have reached a proposed $143 million settlement with Chevron Mining Inc. This involves the next phase of cleanup of the Chevron Questa Mine Superfund site. The proposed consent decree, submitted last month to a New Mexico federal court, requires Chevron to perform a pilot project cleaning up about 275 acres of mine waste, operate a water treatment plant and install groundwater extraction systems. Chevron will also have to pay more than $5.2 million to reimburse the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for overseeing cleanup work at the site, according to a DOJ press release. The mine was operated intermittently from 1919 through 2014, when it was permanently closed.
Chevron and the DOJ previously reached a consent decree in September 2015, which also involved state agencies, resolving claims for natural resources at the site. The DOJ reports that Chevron has already paid more than $4.2 million to restore and replace natural resources at the site that had been damaged by its mining activities.
U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez of the District of New Mexico said in a news release that the settlement provides for crucial cleanup work and protective measures to prevent further contamination, as well as extensive monitoring for compliance with the cleanup work. He said in the release:
This settlement builds on the consent decree entered into in September of last year and represents another affirmative step towards remedying the serious environmental damages suffered by this beautiful area of New Mexico as a result of decades of extensive mining activities.
The cleanup is part of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, otherwise known as the EPA’s Superfund program. The proposed consent decree, which has a 30-day public comment period and is subject to court approval, has been attended to under previous agreements with EPA, including the cleanup of Eagle Rock Lake and the removal of numerous tailing, or mine waste, spills.
When the mine was first closed, about 328 million tons of acid-generating waste rock were excavated from the site, according to the DOJ. This latest cleanup agreement will focus on the 275 acres of the tailings facility and water facilities that keep contaminated water from reaching the Red River, as well as operating and maintaining a water treatment plant. The consent decree provides for the cleanup work that Chevron must undertake, including monthly reporting requirements, emergency response guidelines and dispute resolutions. The proposed settlement also requires monitoring of the site to see how effective the cleanup remedies are in the long-term. Per the terms of the proposal, Chevron does not admit any liability or acknowledge that there are any threats to public health or the environment.
The $5.2 million Chevron will be required to pay will be deposited into the Chevron Questa Mine Superfund Site Special Account in order to be used for future cleanup at the site or be transferred elsewhere by the EPA, according to the proposed consent decree. The proposed settlement is the largest of its kind for cleanup work in EPA Region 6, according to the DOJ’s press release on the matter.
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