TUCSON, Ariz.— Four conservation groups filed suit in federal court today to overturn the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of a controversial open-pit copper mine in southern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says the massive Rosemont Mine would violate nearly a dozen state and federal laws, threaten critical water resources and destroy Coronado National Forest land. The lawsuit was filed by Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, and the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.
“We finally have our day in court before an impartial judge who will consider all the facts and render justice,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. “We are confident that once all of the facts are presented in court, the Rosemont Mine will be found to be illegal and not allowed to proceed.”
Hudbay Minerals, Rosemont’s Canadian owner, wants to blast a mile-wide, half-mile-deep pit in the Santa Rita Mountains and pile potentially toxic mine tailings and waste rock hundreds of feet high in the Cienega Creek watershed, which replenishes Tucson’s groundwater basin. More than 5,000 acres would be harmed by the mine, including nearly 4,000 acres of public land that would be covered by the mine’s waste dumps, open pit, processing plant, and infrastructure. The pit and waste dumps would remain as a permanent scar and environmental hazard on public land. The mine also would destroy prime jaguar habitat, land that’s critical to the survival and recovery of jaguars in the United States. [Read more…]
For Immediate Release: March 7, 2013
Rosemont Air Permit Based on Wrong Mining Plan and Manipulated Data
ADEQ Decision Challenged by Local Coalition
(Tucson, Ariz.) The air pollution permit issued in late January by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) for the proposed Rosemont Mine was based on an outdated mining plan that differs dramatically from the one Rosemont Copper announced last summer. The permit was also based on data that was manipulated by Rosemont to hide potential air pollution violations in Tucson and Pima County.
Those are among the key issues cited in an appeal of the ADEQ decision by Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR), a local coalition of farmers, ranchers, residents and businesses who are concerned about the damage the proposed open-pit copper mine would cause to southern Arizona’s water supplies, air quality and economy.
“It’s hard to believe that ADEQ would simply rubber-stamp this permit application,” said Dr. Tom Purdon, a Green Valley physician. “ADEQ should have reviewed data about the mine that Rosemont actually intends to build, not data about a plan they discarded more than six months earlier.”
In its appeal, SSSR identified several additional flaws in ADEQ’s review of the Rosemont applications, including ADEQ’s:
• failure to adequately evaluate Rosemont’s setting of “process area boundary” for modeling air pollution emissions in direct violation of ADEQ standards;
• failure to adequately evaluate Rosemont’s questionable claim that mining operations will not exceed 10 tons per year of certain hazardous air pollutants or 25 tons combined of those hazardous air pollutants; and
• failure to adequately evaluate Rosemont’s manipulated modeling techniques that misrepresented weather conditions and other modeling inputs in order to avoid data showing violations of the Clean Air Act.
“Air pollution from the Rosemont Mine has the potential to harm the health and safety of southern Arizonans,” said SSSR President Gayle Hartmann. “The ADEQ needs to follow its own regulations and require Rosemont to use accurate modeling techniques to ensure that the mine doesn’t cause Tucson and Pima County to exceed air pollution standards. To do otherwise would jeopardize the health of those of us who live and work here.”
Contrary to Rosemont’s misrepresentations to potential investors and others, the ADEQ air pollution permit is just one of seven permits or other decisions that still must be obtained by Rosemont Copper before it can proceed with the mine:
• The US Forest Service must complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and issue a Record of Decision. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the draft EIS its lowest possible rating and concluded that it was one of the worst EIS’s ever reviewed. The Forest Service process has been delayed in large part by Rosemont’s failure to provide requested information and by the Company’s decision to dramatically change its mining proposal in July 2012.
• The US Army Corps of Engineers must issue a permit under the Clean Water Act that allows Rosemont to pollute area waterways. As with the EIS, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2012 that the Rosemont Mine would cause “significant degradation” of area waterways, including “substantial and unacceptable impacts” to Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek.
• The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must issue a Biological Opinion assessing whether the Rosemont Mine would jeopardize nearly a dozen threatened and endangered species, including the jaguar, ocelot and southwestern willow flycatcher. In addition, the FWS is in the process of designating critical habitat for both jaguars and the southwestern willow flycatcher that may include the Rosemont Mine site. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish has concluded that the Rosemont Mine “will render the northern portion of the Santa Rita Mountains virtually worthless as wildlife habitat and as a functioning ecosystem, and thus also worthless for wildlife recreation.” Federal agencies are not allowed to approve actions that destroy or adversely modify critical habitat for endangered species.
• The Aquifer Protection Permit issued by the ADEQ in 2012 is still under appeal on the grounds that it fails to protect area groundwater supplies. The Water Quality Appeals Board has not yet ruled on the appeal.
• The Forest Service must also consult with the State Historic Preservation Office and, potentially, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to ensure that the Rosemont Mine doesn’t adversely affect historic and cultural sites, including traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation and other Native American Tribes.