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TUCSON, Ariz.— Conservation groups and tribes yesterday asked a federal court to prevent construction from starting on the Rosemont Copper Mine in southern Arizona until a judge rules on pending lawsuits filed by the parties.
Yesterday’s motion for a preliminary injunction, filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson, pertains to five lawsuits filed over the past two years by Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, and the Tohono O’odham, Pascua Yaqui and Hopi tribes. The lawsuits seek to overturn a series of federal approvals greenlighting the controversial open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
“The Rosemont mine would cause irreparable and permanent damage to our water and mountains,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. “Allowing Rosemont to commence construction activities prior to a judge addressing the serious issues in our suit would deny southern Arizonans the justice to which they are entitled under the law.”
The lawsuits say that federal agencies violated fundamental environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, when they approved the massive Rosemont Mine. The mile-wide, 3,000-foot-deep mine would dry up critical water sources, harm a number of endangered species and destroy thousands of acres of public land in the Coronado National Forest.
Hudbay Minerals, the project’s owner, has announced plans to begin ground-disturbing activities in July.
“It’s senseless to allow Rosemont to start shredding our public lands before the judge has a chance to rule whether this is legal,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Thousands of acres of prime jaguar habitat, a scenic highway and critically important springs and streams are at immediate risk of irreparable harm.”
If the preliminary injunction is granted, mine construction would be prevented until a federal judge rules on the underlying lawsuits.
Hudbay Minerals, Rosemont’s Canadian owner, wants to blast a mile-wide, half-mile-deep pit in the Santa Rita Mountains and pile toxic mine tailings and waste rock hundreds of feet high in the Davidson Canyon/Cienega Creek watershed, which directly replenishes Tucson’s groundwater supply.
More than 5,000 acres would be destroyed 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 permanent scars and environmental hazards on the landscape.
The mine also would destroy thousands of acres of federally protected jaguar critical habitat — land that’s been formally designated as essential to the survival and recovery of jaguars in the United States. This area includes the former home territory of the famous jaguar named “El Jefe” by Tucson schoolchildren.
The groups are represented by the Western Mining Action Project, a public interest law firm specializing in litigation on mining issues in the western states, and Marc Fink and Allison Melton of the Center for Biological Diversity. The Tribes are represented by Heidi McIntosh, Stu Gillespie and Caitlin Miller of Earthjustice.
In 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a “biological opinion” declaring that the Rosemont Mine would not unduly harm jaguars, ocelots or any of a dozen endangered species threatened by the mine.
In 2017 the U.S. Forest Service approved a “record of decision” for the Rosemont Mine, declaring that the project complies with all applicable environmental laws and regulations and should proceed. These decisions were challenged by three lawsuits filed in late 2017 and early 2018.
In March two more lawsuits were filed in federal court challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a Clean Water Act permit for the mine, which was the final outstanding permit Rosemont needed to begin construction. In 2016 the Army Corps district engineer in Los Angeles formally recommended denial of the permit, concluding that the mine would violate water-quality standards and a number of laws and was not in the public interest. But under the Trump administration, the agency reversed its position and issued the permit in March 2019.
All five lawsuits have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge James Soto in Tucson, Ariz.
Save the Scenic Santa Ritas is a nonprofit organization working to protect the Santa Rita and Patagonia Mountains from environmental degradation caused by mining and mineral exploration activities.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club is a national nonprofit environmental organization with approximately 2.7 million members and supporters, including more than 60,000 in Arizona. Sierra Club’s mission is “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.”
The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition represents 16 local, regional, and national organizations working in Arizona to improve state and federal laws, rules, and regulations governing hard rock mining to protect communities and the environment. We work to hold mining operations to the highest environmental and social standards to provide for the long term environmental, cultural, and economic health of Arizona.