By Laura Paskus | New Mexico In Depth
A bill to permit New Mexico full membership in the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, introduced by Sen. Carlos R. Cisneros, D-Questa, is winding its way through Senate committees. Currently, New Mexico is an associate member of the IMCC. Full membership would allow New Mexico input on mining policies promoted by the IMCC and access to resources and training.
The IMCC is an organization of states with significant mining industries. State governors compose its governing body, which doesn’t have regulatory authority. A key purpose of the IMCC is to promote state control, or ‘sovereignty’, over that of federal authority when it comes to mining regulations.
That purpose puts it at odds with a prominent environmental organization in New Mexico. Initially, Conservation Voters New Mexico supported the bill, says communications director Liliana Castillo.
“The way the bill is written, it sounds pretty innocuous,” Castillo told NMID. “It sounds like states are going to get together to talk about best practices for remediation. That sounds great!”
But discrepancies between how the bill is worded and what the organization actually does were widespread enough to make the nonprofit pull its support of the bill.
“Once we started doing more research, we saw that the IMCC engages in activities that are not at all described in the bill or indicated in any way in the bill,” she says. “CVNM opposes SB 173 because it would associate New Mexico with the IMCC, which seeks to undermine strong federal environmental safeguards that really do protect people, communities, and the environment.”
The primacy of state regulations over federal laws is an issue that has arisen frequently during the Martinez administration.
Martinez’s recent energy plan recommends reinforcing state priority over federal oil and gas regulations. And in 2014, New Mexico joined 12 other states to oppose a federal water rule. Last year, after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals applied a stay on the rule, New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a press release that the rule “mandates a sprawling new (Waters of the U.S.) definition which greatly infringes on state and local authority to manage and regulate lands and waters within our boundaries.”
Cisneros’s bill is short on details. But given the IMCC’s work with Congress and in the courts, it’s easy enough to find more about the commission and its members.
In a talk before the Alaska Support Industry Alliance two years ago, for example, IMCC executive director Gregory E. Conrad discussed the organization’s frequent challenges to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the federal Office of Surface Mining, as well as its activity in the courts—“one of the key protections of federalism in our system.”
In his speech, Conrad also cited an American Legislative Exchange Council report, “EPA’s Assault on State Sovereignty.”
That report, he says, “found evidence that the ‘unprecedented regulatory encroachment’ on behalf of EPA has produced significant negative effects to the economy.”
The report argues that since 2009, EPA has largely abandoned its cooperative federalism approach to its administration of such legislation as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, replacing the congressionally intended system with one in which state participation is effectively replaced by “friendly lawsuits” from environmental groups.
An IMCC member testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources during a 2013 hearing, “EPA vs. American Mining Jobs: The Obama Administration’s Regulatory Assault on the Economy.”
Edmund J. Fogels, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, spoke of EPA overreach and he called for Congress to support states by “reaffirming the call for state primacy supported by the U.S. Constitution.”
As an associate member of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, the state of New Mexico currently pays the organization $22,000 a year.
Once a state has passed an Interstate Mining Compact Act, it can only withdraw from the IMCC after giving one year’s notice to all the other member governors and then passing a new bill to repeal the act.
On Thursday, the Senate Conservation Committee struck that language when it amended and passed the bill.
But as Conrad noted within his 2014 talk, once a state has entered the compact as a full member, it can only withdraw through a similar legislative action. That process, he said, “preserves the integrity of the organization over time.”
Next, the bill heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.