Let's just see how the EPA treated Molycorp at its Questa, NM, mine. They've been in operation since 1920, large-scale since the mid-50's. Runoff into the Red River and seepage into the groundwater includes arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, and zinc. The EPA has been documenting environmental effects from this mine at least since 1971. 29 years later, it was nominated for Superfund status so that we, the taxpayers, can foot the bill for the cleanup.
Now a little closer to home: the Mimbres Aquifer. Ever wonder where all the arsenic in our Columbus city water came from? Well, historically it's been used to leach gold from surrounding rock. Plus, arsenic and other metals are found in the tailings from copper mining; they would not have an easy way to get into the groundwater except through the use of acid during mining operations. Phelps Dodge has been spilling contamination into groundwater at various locations, including the Chino mine near Silver City, for years. The webpage referenced above claims the largest at Chino was 185 million gallons in 1988. Where was the EPA? Sitting with Phelps Dodge and BLM representatives over coffee working out a land swap deal.
I'm sure the EPA has slapped these companies' hands over the years. That's necessary to keep the show looking legitimate. But industry and the governmental agencies that regulate them always end up working hand-in-hand for the long term. COS is not an industry; we will not get 30 years to bring our treatment pond up to the EPA's standards. We will have to have an approved liner installed by an approved company, by May next year, and it will likely put us into debt for many years. What if we don't comply? Judging by what happened to 3 people in this area recently, I'd expect to be forced off our property at gunpoint.
Update 2007-07-02: our last visit by the EPA resulted in a possible extension of our current agreement for another 5 years, which will give us until May 2012 (the end of the world?) to keep our wastewater treatment system "as is". After that, rumor has it that we are supposed to hook into the city of Columbus's treatment system. Why would that be, if our system is working so well? The State of NM representative was so impressed by the results of our use of EM that we will have to stop it in 5 years. That makes so fucking much sense.