Battle Over Rosemont Mine
A hotbed of controversy lies just 30 miles southeast of Tucson concerning the proposed opening of the Rosemont Copper Mine. The Rosemont Copper Mine is a planned, open-pit copper mine. The plans are currently undergoing a review and permitting process by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To say that the permitting and approval process has been going smoothly would be a total falsity. Many environmental and legal activists have taken a stand against the proposed mine because of the potential environmental impacts to the Santa Rita Mountain Range. According to Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, an environmental group, the “open pit for the Rosemont Copper mine will be excavated right into the middle of a major aquifer for the region,” irreparably harming the habitat of local species, and damaging future water sources.¹ That being said, if approved, the mine is projected to be the third largest copper mine in the United States, bringing hundreds of new jobs to the region and boosting the economy.²
On March 27, 2019, four conservation groups filed a lawsuit to overturn an approved 404 Permit (Permit) for the mine. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially issued the permit on March 7, 2019. Four groups—Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter—are challenging the U.S. Army Corps’ decision to authorize a construction and operation permit to the Rosemont Copper Mine.³ According to the complaint, the Permit allows the Rosemont Project to “dump well over a billion tons of mine waste and rock into the waters and adjacent lands of Barrel and Wasp Canyons” and further damage wildlife and biodiversity around the land.⁴ This complaint is filed under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). There are already three separate cases preceding this one: Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas v. U.S. Forest Service, and Tohono O’odham Nation v. U.S. Forest Service.
The Rosemont Project cannot proceed in its operations or the construction of its facilities without the 404 Permit administered by the U.S. Army Corps. Thus, most of the targeted efforts by environmental groups and Indian tribes are to thwart the Rosemont Project’s ability to receive the permits. The claimants assert “[t]he Corps has ignored and refused to consider the direct impacts to Wasp and Barrel Canyons and downstream Davidson Canyon from the contaminated runoff [...] and failed to consider or protect against the indirect, cumulative, and/or secondary impacts to environmental, wildlife, and cultural resource.”⁵ By approving the permit, the Corps actually ignored a negative recommendation made by its Los Angeles district office.⁶ Therefore, it is mind-boggling to most opposition groups how this governmental agency can flip-flop on itself so much. The Corps responded to the expressed confusion by saying that Hudbay Minerals (the owner of the mine) had actually revised many of the plans previously objected to and agreed to “remove four watering tanks that capture stormwater” to make sure that it still flows into creeks. The permit decision said that, “considering the need for the proposed action and the lack of other locations or methods to accomplish the proposed work, the Corps concludes that issuance of the permit is not contrary to the public interest”.⁷
The fight isn’t over yet. This new lawsuit stands as yet another potential obstacle to getting the project underway. Indian tribes and communities of environmental activists will remain on the forefront of these events as they start to unfold relatively soon under this new litigation. Hudbay Minerals has not offered comment on the litigation, so the case is somewhat at a standstill.
¹ Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, http://www.scenicsantaritas.org/key-facts/ (last visited Apr 2, 2019).
² Tony Davis, Rosemont Mine wins final permit needed for construction, Arizona Daily Star(2019), https://tucson.com/news/local/rosemont-mine-wins-final-permit-needed-for-construction/article_e3676d00-7297-5429-9854-a8816b75c639.html (last visited Apr 3, 2019).
³ Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, et al v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, et al, (2019) http://www.scenicsantaritas.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Complaint-Final-3-27-19.pdf (last visited Apr 17, 2019).
⁶ Emma Gibson, Conservation Groups Sue To Block Proposed Rosemont Copper Mine, Arizona Public Media (2019), https://news.azpm.org/p/news-articles/2019/3/29/148794-conservation-groups-sue-to-block-proposed-rosemont-copper-mine/ (last visited Apr 3, 2019).
⁷ Tony Davis, Rosemont Mine wins final permit needed for construction, Arizona Daily Star (2019), https://tucson.com/news/local/rosemont-mine-wins-final-permit-needed-for-construction/article_e3676d00-7297-5429-9854-a8816b75c639.html (last visited Apr 3, 2019).
Image credit to http://arizonageology.blogspot.com/2014/02/hudbay-minerals-makes-hostile-takeover.html