U.S. environmentalists file lawsuit to overturn approval of Canadian copper mine

Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter have filed a lawsuit in federal court in the hope that it rescinds the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of Hudbay Minerals’ (TSX, NYSE:HBM) Rosemont Project in southern Arizona.

The $1.5-billion Rosemont Project is an open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 50 km southeast of Tucson. It is expected to be the third-largest copper mine in the United States, accounting for approximately 10% of the country’s total copper production, and it received a Final Record of Decision from the Forest Service back in June, 2017.

But before Hudbay reaches such big production goals, it has to deal with environmentalists’ concerns and legal actions. In the case of the recent lawsuit, the four organizations involved allege that the mine would violate nearly a dozen state and federal laws, threaten water resources and destroy Coronado National Forest land.

In a press release, the activists explain that their claim is based on the fact that the company would “pile potentially toxic mine tailings and waste rock hundreds of feet high in the Cienega Creek watershed, which replenishes Tucson’s groundwater basin.”

They also say that more than 5,000 acres would be harmed, including nearly 4,000 acres of public land that would be covered by the mine’s waste dumps, open pit, processing plant and infrastructure. “The pit and waste dumps would remain as a permanent scar and environmental hazard on public land. The mine also would destroy prime jaguar habitat, land that’s critical to the survival and recovery of jaguars in the United States,” the release reads.

In their statement, the plaintiffs accuse the Forest Service of neglecting local communities and the environment in favour of protecting the interests of a foreign company who is only focusing on its own short-term profits.

In an email statement to MINING.com, the company said that this new challenge was expected but that management is confident the permits will be upheld. "We have full confidence in the rigorous diligence shown by the Forest Service in fulfilling its responsibilities during the permitting process. Rosemont has been under review for nearly a decade and considered in that time by seventeen cooperating agencies, mostly at the federal and state levels. The project record, which culminated in the Record of Decision, includes nearly 50,000 technical reports and references," the communication reads.

In a media brief published on the company’s website following the Forest Service’s green light, officials also said that their environmental review involved “16 hearings, over 1,000 studies, and 245 days of public comment resulting in more than 36,000 comments.”

The Toronto-based miner is now waiting to receive the Section 404 Water Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, the commander of the agency's branch in Los Angeles District recommended the denial of the permit, which is now under consideration of the regional commander at the agency’s San Francisco office.

The mine also faces another lawsuit filed in September by the Center for Biological Diversity, which challenges the biological opinion prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that led to the approval of the Rosemont Mine by the Forest Service.