Phelps Dodge proposes Voluntary Program for Aquifer pollution

An examination of Phelps Dodge's "voluntarism" in Green Valley: How would you score their "proactive" "voluntarism" in the past two years? And why didn't they volunteer before everyone started complaining of sulfate over 500 ml/ltr and hardness of 30 gr/gal (twice the definition of hardness)? That would have been my definitions of "proactive."

Major Events


Oct 8. Phelps Dodge admits their tailings pond slurry is invading the public drinking water.

"We are pursuing this with all due speed," Wood said Friday. "But there is a lot of regulation involved; this will take us several months to work through..." [© Green Valley News and Sun]


May 14. PD plans to pump water from existing well fields for Community Water customers

Bruce Richardson, a Phelps Dodge Corp. spokesman.said that state and county water regulations contribute greatly to the uncertainty surrounding a possible solution to the issue. [© 2003 Green Valley News and Sun]

June 6. Freeman appeals to ADEQ and ADWR for support since no action has been taken by PD

"The numbers have been escalating at a rate of 100 mg/l per year for TDS and 50 mg/l per year for sulfate. The level of some of the regulated inorganics have also been increasing somewhat. If these numbers start doubling [due to mine's doubling its operations], we could have a dire situation. I want to know if you can do anything to expedite this situation."

Note: Freeman was informed that ADEQ and ADWR knew nothing about Phelps Dodge's promises to remedy the sulfate situation temporarily and had not applied for any permits--after 8 months.

Dec. 1. Temporary solution for well replacement still in process

Phelps Dodge's spokesperson Ken V aughn said that the mine will file for permits within the next few weeks that will allow them to hook their well into Community Water's system. [© 2004 Green Valley News]

Dec. 3. ADEQ reps estimate that public hearings will be held in two months

State regulators are currently examining the impact the Phelps Dodge Sierrita Mine has on the local water supply, and public hearings on the issue are expected to be held here in February 2005. [© 2004 Green Valley News and Sun]


January 1: Some forty Phelps Dodge employees sign up as lobbyists with state

A total of fifity empoyees, attorneys and advisors registered with Arizona state legislature as lobbyists (unpaid ones), including John Brack, manager, and Mike Wood, environmental coordinator of the Green Valley Sierrita mine. In addition, Phelps Dodge maintains four lobbyists in Phoenix.. [See official records.]

Note: In Arizona if one is going to speak to a legislator about legislation, they must register as a lobbyist with the state. The unusual number of sign-ups would appear to indicate that Phelps Dodge had a legislative agenda, although we cannot even dare to imagine what it was.

Feb 16. Phelps Dodge completes the hook up of pipes to three existing wells.

"Three new wells meant to temporarily replace two Community Water Company wells contaminated with high levels of sulfates and total dissolved solids are expected to be hooked-up by the end of the week, a Community Water supervisor said Tuesday. [© 2004 Green Valley News and Sun]

Note: This long delay included two engineering studies, a one month delay because a part was missing and no one at PD bothered to make a phone call to find out why it had not arrived, and Community Water had to front PD money to do some of the work because PD officials said that lack of funds was causing the delay. Did the 1.4 million dollar bonus paid to the Phelps Dodge CEO last month catch the company short on funds?

February 28. Senate Research Committee recommends 10 years of continuation of ADEQ

A sunset review of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) was conducted in 2004 by the Senate Natural Resources and Transportation and House of Representatives Environment Committee of Reference.  The COR recommended that ADEQ be continued for ten years. This bill has no anticipated fiscal impact on the State's General Fund.

March 8. Senate Bill proposes "voluntary" environmental performance program

SB1461 voluntary environmental performance program (Flake, Allen, Huffman)
proposes a voluntary environmental performance program, otherwise referred to as the "polluter protection act." Incentives for participation in this program include state preferred vendor status, awards, increased ability to do self-reporting, monitoring and certification, acceleration of review of permit applications. The bill also provides low-cost loans to industries through an environmental management pollution prevention fund for pollution prevention, energy efficiency, and innovative environmental technologies.

Note: Obviously, the companies can voluntarily to their own monitoring—no one is stopping them. If they did so, there would be no need for ADEQ. At present there are hundreds of violations every year.

March 24. In a midnight session, Arizona Senate votes to disband ADEQ

The action follows complaints by several Republican lawmakers who said the agency has abused its regulatory powers. Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria, led the action, saying the state might be better off without the DEQ at all. The action will cut all funds to ADEQ on July 1, 2005. [© CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES]

Note: Thanks to the media getting the news out, the Senate rescinded their decision and voted to fund ADEQ for another 5 years, instead of the 10 years recommended by the Senate Report (paid for by tax payers). I have called Sen. Burns' and written Sen Tim Bee to find out who were the companies who were complaining, to no avail. In other words, the Senators are legislating in favor of undisclosed companies.

May 11 . William Cobb, PD Director, Environmental Department, mentions a Voluntary Program
"As we have recently discussed, this letter confirms Phelps Dodge's voluntary commitment to address certain aesthetic sulfate impacts to drinking water supply wells located down-gradient from the Phelps Dodge Sierrita and Phelps Dodge Copper Queen mines." [See entire letter]

Note: Phelps Dodge officially takes up the "voluntary" theme. One wonders where they got the idea.

June 13. William E. Cobb, PD Director, Environmental Department, proposes a Voluntary Program

As presented in this letter, Phelps Dodge Sierrita Inc. ("PDSI") is pro-actively* addressing sulfate conditions downgradient from its operation in Green Valley that have created aesthetic impacts to drinking water supply wells operated by Community Water Company ("CWC"). The steps taken by PDSI and CWC to locate alternative water sources for CWC have substantively altered the basic assumptions used by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) in preparing the draft aquifer protection permit (APP) for PDSI. In addition, PDSI is prepared to implement additional characterization and proactive remedial actions to address sulfate conditions in groundwater downgradient from its Sierrita operation, but proposes to use a remediation-based approach rather than a compliance-permit approach to implementing those actions.
[*emphasis added] [See entire letter]

Note: I suppose we are all entitled to our definition of "proactive"; however, it is possible that taking 20 months to hook up existing wells might not be considered "proactive" by some, especially when the sulfate and hardness continued to increase.

June 15. Replacement wells are now cleaned up and pumping water to CWC customers

Three wells owned by the Phelps Dodge Sierrita Mine finally began providing water to Community Water customers early this month. The wells are meant as a temporary replacement for two Community Water wells contaminated with high levels of sulfates seeping into the groundwater from the Sierrita Mine's tailings impoundment. [© 2005 Green Valley News and Sun]

Note: This last four month delay was caused by readings of high bacteria at the wells and the replacement of one pump. From the above information, it appears that Phelps Dodge had other priorities.

August 15. Public Hearing in Green Valley

Phelps Dodge Sierrita Mine officials and state regulators got an earful this week from local citizens who want the mining giant to “clean up its mess.” A stream of speakers, most of them senior citizens, stepped to the microphone during a hearing on the mine’s draft Aquifer Protection Permit (APP) Wednesday to chastise Phelps Dodge for allowing a decades-old sulfate plume to contaminate the area’s groundwater, and to make pleas to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to force the mine to action. [© 2005 Green Valley News and Sun] [See the complete article by Tim Hull]

Note: For unknown reasons, Phelps Dodge officials were allowed to give a 15 minute public relations presentation, which did not include one word about any remediation plan.

August 23. PD files comments with ADEQ insisting on a voluntary program for remediation

Because of PDSI’s proactive commitment to ADEQ to address perceived sulfate impacts from its operations and its commitment to reach a long-term solution with CWC for its water supply needs and because there is no current point of drinking water use in the aquifer down-gradient of the Sierrita operations that is impacted by the sulfate plume, PDSI does not believe that it is appropriate for the draft permit to establish an arbitrary numeric concentration to define compliance with narrative aquifer water quality standards, to subject PDMI to potential criminal liability under A.R.S. 49-263 for violation of narrative aquifer quality standard…. PDSI has committed to address any perceived sulfate impacts through non-APP, but proactive, efforts both with ADEQ and with CWC. [See the entire PD Comments to ADEQ]

Note: In addition to the long delays in hooking up temporary replacement wells, please note that although Phelps Dodge officials knew that the sulfate levels were climbing to double the recommended level in our public drinking water, they took no action at all until the community demanded some action. Also, please note the use of the word "perceived sulfate impacts" although it was clearly demonstrated in the public hearing that the impacts of sulfate and its accompanying hardness is an economic burden, rather than an aesthetic burden, on the residents of Green Valley for softners, filters, etc.

August 29. ADEQ water director replies to Phelps Dodge in regard to volunteer program

".... I write specifically regarding the comment that "PDSI proposes to use a remediation-based approach to address the sulfate conditions at our site under, for example, the Voluntary Remediation Program, rather than under ADEQ's compliance-permit approach." At this writing, I am not aware that Phelps Dodge has submitted any plan for remediation of the sulfate plume to ADEQ's Voluntary Remediation Program." [See entire letter]

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