Rosemont Decision: New Rules Will impact Mine Decision July 15, 2013

| July 16, 2013 | 0 Comments More

On July 1, the Coronado National Forest published an “administrative” environmental impact statement on the Augusta Resource Rosemont Mine and provided cooperating agencies but not the public 30 days for comment.   

Coronado Supervisor Jim Upchurch would prefer to see a final EIS completed accompanied by a Record of Decision (ROD) on the mine which approves or disapproves Rosemont by September 27.   Upchurch admits that it is a difficult milepost; mine opponents see it as impossible and probably illegal.

The July 1 EIS states that “the forest supervisor does not have the legal authority to require Rosemont to forego any of their mineral recovery”.  In other words the Coronado wants to issue a ROD approving Rosemont with conditions protecting the environment.

Meeting EPA concerns In February, 2012, following a review of the Rosemont draft EIS ,EPA Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld wrote Upchurch that the DEIS was “environmentally unsatisfactory due to inadequate information.” He added that the DEIS should be either revised and circulated for full public review or that a supplemental EIS should be developed.   Regional NEPA chief Kathy Goforth  added. “If they issue a final EIS and the final document does not address the concerns raised…they put themselves at a risk of 3rd party lawsuit.”

 “Never say Never” Upchurch said, “It wasn’t just EPA who was concerned about the DEIS legally addressing the issues   There were those zillions of letters and comments that we got.  We looked through each one and tried our best to address the issues in the 1100 pages we now have.

“I won’t be satisfied until we have covered everything,  but are we in the last stage?  There is no legal requirement that the EIS go out again to the public for final review.  But will there be further public comment on the EIS?  We will await the agency responses to this EIS and we’ll see what to do.   You never say never on that subject.”

Upchurch:  Prefer to be Done before new rules September 27    Upchurch later clarified what future public review could mean.

 

 There will be new nationwide Forest Service rules to address environmental impacts called  “Project-Level Predecisional Administrative Review Process” in effect September 27.

 

After that date the Coronado will have to issue a draft ROD approving or rejecting Rosemont instead of a final one as well as a  draft final EIS instead of a final one followed by a comment period to receive objections from the public to both prior to issuing final documents.

 Upchurch said that it would be “preferable to stay within the current appeal review process and issue our final EIS and decision before September 27    If we cannot do that we will have to notify everybody that there is a new objection process that will be implemented that will impact not just Rosemont but every Forest Service project in the country with environmental impacts.

“If we go past that date we will have to work through the review process for the first time, essentially putting things back several months. We are trying to be expeditious regarding the needs of the proponent while being thorough. The 27th isn’t a deadline and if we don’t make it the process won’t go belly-up

Forest Service Approval and subsequent Lawsuits   It is unlikely that Augusta would be sued once the Forest Service issues a ROD.  Such lawsuits are directed toward the agencies that approve mines based on how well agencies complied with protective laws.

Augusta spokeswoman Letitia Cornacchia saidwe believe the agencies have done a thorough and credible job” and had no comment on the September 27 date.

Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project is an attorney for Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. In 2009 Flynn filed a lawsuit that challenged the right of Rosemont and all mines to deposit mine wastes on valid mine claims without paying full value for that land.

Flynn has historically filed the most lawsuits in the country against Federal agencies over EIS’s that have led to mine approval. His would constitute the 3rd party lawsuit referred to by EPA Region 9.

Flynn said, “The EIS is a long way from complete.  As of July 1 the Forest Service hasn’t responded to the EPA or Army Corps concerns and they will have to substantially revise the project to do so. Beyond the Forest Service ROD, other permits or approvals will be tiered on that final EIS.  The Corps 404 permit,  Endangered Species Act  approval by Fish and Wildlife to protect jaguars and other species, and historical protection criteria are dependent on a legally adequate EIS and cannot be issued without it.

The US Fish and Wildlife has found that the mine has an acceptable Endangered Species impact based on the current version, however it will have to base a final decision on a final EIS.

Flynn added that an EIS authorizes nothing, and potential litigation on Rosemont would be based on issuance of a ROD and the specific alternative an agency chose. 

Among organizations that have filed or said they would file litigation on Rosemont are Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, FICO pecan orchards, Center for Biological Diversity and the Tohono O’odham  Nation who is lobbying Congress to delay approval.  Pima County has not done so but has provided comments challenging the legality of the process.

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