Getting Onto Dodge

State official harshly criticizes Phelps Dodge environmental record; mining firm's development delayed

". . . Phelps Dodge comes to this particular board member bearing the sins of the past."

Phelps Dodge, through its lawyer, Bob Boatman, refused New Times' requests for comment last week.

Blunt also expressed concern that one permit "began with one applicant and switched to another." And he asked DEQ's lawyer why the state did not require Phelps Dodge to disclose its past environmental compliance record. "Wouldn't it be good for DEQ to know if Phelps Dodge has ten permits and nine are not in compliance--and I'm not suggesting that this is true--but wouldn't that be important for the public?" he asked assistant attorney general Yvonne Hunter.

"There are various levels of violation," she answered.
"People can be in technical violation all the time. But this does not necessarily mean DEQ should be hesitant in issuing a permit to another facility. . . ."

Hunter said the two state permits would allow the state more control over Phelps Dodge, whose tailings are already polluting the river.

Board member Don Pope, a well driller from Yuma, said the technical aspects of the Phelps Dodge plan seemed reasonable. But Pope said he needed more assurance that Phelps Dodge would follow through with its promises to continue "the operation and maintenance of the system."

Jeff Bouma, a Phoenix attorney representing the environmental groups, says he fully expected the board to affirm Merkow's recommendation in the Phelps Dodge case.

But when the board requested more facts and more time, "jaws hit the floor," he says.

"This has never happened before."
Of course, there is the possibility that board members were simply trying to sound tough, and will eventually concur with Merkow's findings. But Bouma doubts that the board members were trying to impress anyone.

"If it's a show, who were they playing to?" he asks.

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