Federal Judge Rules Against Rosemont Copper Mine

By Heather van Blokland, Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 12:28pm
Updated: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 12:30pm

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Rosemont Copper Mine
The proposed Rosemont copper mine would be situated here in the Santa Rita Mountains.

A federal judge on Monday overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of a controversial open-pit copper mine in southern Arizona, citing that mining is damaging the habitat of jaguars and other endangered species.

U.S. District Judge James Soto determined that the agency violated the Endangered Species Act by approving the destruction of thousands of acres of recently occupied jaguar habitat at the Rosemont copper mine site. The ruling is a blow to Canadian company and mine owner Hudbay Minerals, which has been developing the $1.9 million mine in the Coronado National Forest for several years.

In September 2017, the Center sued to challenge the Fish and Wildlife Service’s opinion that determined the mine would not jeopardize threatened and endangered species in the area.

The mine’s construction was halted by the same judge in July, saying the agency conducted “inherently flawed analysis from the inception of the proposed Rosemont mine. The Forest Service and Rosemont have appealed this ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Forest Service relied on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s opinion in its decision to approve the mine.

In this ruling, Soto finds the original mine approval failed to protect several endangered species. Soto also threw out the previous approval and ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency to start its review over. The Endangered Species Act required the Fish and Wildlife Service to estimate the amount of aquatic and riparian species that could be threatened by the severe reduction in groundwater from the mine. But the court found that the agency used an improper and unworkable habitat “surrogate,” which violated the law.

In all 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, processing plant and infrastructure, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The pit and waste dumps would remain as a permanent scar and an environmental hazard.

The Rosemont mine faces additional legal challenges not addressed by today’s ruling. The judge has stayed two March 2019 lawsuits challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a Clean Water Act permit for the mine. The mine, which would threaten critical water resources and wildlife habitat in the area, cannot be constructed without the permit.

The Show spoke with environmental reporter Tony Davis, who has been covering the story for years.

The Show also reached out to Hudbay Minerals about this decision.

A representative said in a statement: 

“Today’s ruling on the endangered species cases does not come as a surprise in light of the court’s previous decisions on the Rosemont project. While we respect the court’s authority to remand the analysis and findings back to the agencies for further review, Hudbay
believes this is unnecessary and remains committed to advancing the project which will benefit the region as a critical economic and employment driver. The Forest Service approved the Rosemont project after more than 11 years of careful review and study by
17 cooperating agencies. The research and studies all concluded that the potential impacts to endangered species would be insignificant and would comply with the regulations set by these expert agencies. Hudbay is reviewing the decision and will continue following
the direction of the government agencies through the permitting process.”

The company is reviewing the decision.

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