On February 10, 2020, in a case brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. District Judge James Soto overturned the Service’s approval of the proposed Rosemont Mine due to the threats it would pose to endangered species in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The nearly 4,000 acres that the proposed mine would threaten is legally designated as critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of jaguars in the United States. Hudbay Minerals Inc., which owns the Rosemont Mine Project, subsequently challenged the designation of the mine site as jaguar critical habitat, but this challenge was denied by Judge Soto.
This decision is supported by the independent conclusions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which has stated that the proposed mine will:
•“Fragment a vast, intact, natural landscape that contains hundreds of streams, springs and wetlands.
•Create a half-mile deep pit that will intercept the regional aquifer, requiring groundwater pumping that will dewater perennial springs and degrade the Cienega Creek watershed.
•Adversely affect ten federally listed threatened or endangered species, including the jaguar.
•Reduce water quality in state-designated “Outstanding National Resource Waters.”
The approval process for the Rosemont Mine dates back to October 2007, when Canada-based Augusta Resource Corporation, through its wholly owned Rosemont Copper Company, submitted its proposed Rosemont Project Mining Plan of Operation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. National Forest Service for review and permitting. In March 2008, the Forest Service began its review and permitting process as required by the National Environmental Protection Act.
During this review process, the Forest Service received 11,000 comments from the public, largely expressing detailed concerns over the potential irreversible harm that the proposed mine in the Coronado National Forest would pose to the region’s air quality, water resources, soils, and protected biological resources and habitats in violation of federal laws.
In June 2014, the Canada-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. acquired the Rosemont Copper Company and became the successor applicant for federal approval of the proposed mine project.
In 2017, after a long and contentious public comment and agency review period, the Forest Service issued its “Record of Decision” stating that the proposed Rosemont Mine Project complies with environmental laws and regulations and that Hudbay was therefore permitted to build and operate the mine on Coronado National Forest public land for a projected life of 30 years.
Subsequently, a group of concerned parties brought a case against the Forest Service contesting its Record of Decision. On July 31, 2019, U.S. District Judge James Soto ruled against the Forest Service and overturned its Record of Decision and the underlying environmental analysis for the mine project.
The Record of Decision was found to violate federal mining and public land laws and, as a result, construction of the mine project was stopped from proceeding.
Hudbay then requested Judge Soto to vacate or amend his ruling. On October 25, 2019, Judge Soto denied Hudbay’s request concluding that “The court finds no basis to reconsider its decision.”
Meanwhile, on August 23, 2019, because of Judge Soto’s ruling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified Hudbay that, effective immediately, the Rosemont Mine’s Department of Army (404) Surface Water Permit issued on March 8, 2019, was rescinded.
It is important to note that the reason the proposed Rosemont Mine has been denied these three required approvals is that the federal agencies responsible for reviewing and approving the applicant’s proposed Mining Plan of Operation have done so in violation of established federal laws.
Hudbay and the U.S. Federal Justice Department have since given notice that they will appeal Judge Soto’s July 31, 2019, ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Given the typical backlog of that court, it may take up to two years for an appeal to be heard.