TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - On May 15, conservation groups and tribes 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.
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.
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 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.
“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.”
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.