Chevron Corporation is fighting a court ruling that says the federal government was not liable for cleanup costs at a northern New Mexico Superfund site that once was a mine site operated by the company but owned by the U.S. government. It took its case this week to the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver claiming the decision by a lower court opened a loophole in the Superfund law for the government to shirk its cleanup obligations.
U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armjo issued her ruling in September 2015 and said the government’s ownership of the land at the Questa mine site located just west of Red River was too tenuous to convey liability for cleanup costs under the law. Chevron appealed.
Questa is a small town located west of Red River and north of Taos and the molybdenum mine run by Chevron was shut down in the summer of 2014 resulting in the layoff of 300 workers. Molybdenum is used to harden steel but in recent years, prices dropped and mining was not as productive.
Despite the layoffs, much work on the cleanup remains. The mine and its nearby tailings operation were declared a Superfund site. Massive piles of tailings, those similar to the mountains of chat at northeast Oklahoma’s Tar Creek Superfund site, exist and have to be removed. Experts estimated the cleanup will cost $800 million.