Pima County is formally requesting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco regional office to uphold a July recommendation from the Corps’ Los Angeles district to deny a Clean Water Act permit needed to construct the proposed Rosemont copper project.
“Denying a CWA Section 404 permit is the best decision that can be made with the existing technologies and conditions presented by this particular mine,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry states in an Oct. 21 letter to the Corps’ regional commander Col. D. Peter Helmlinger.
Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. is seeking state and federal permits to construct the $1.5 billion Rosemont open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest 30 miles southeast of Tucson. The CWA Section 404 permit is the last major federal permit required before construction could begin on the project.
“We urge you to uphold this recommendation with a timely decision”, Huckelberry states in his letter to Helmlinger. “Despite years of negotiation with project proponent Hudbay Minerals, mitigation can not be found to offset the damages in any meaningful timescale.”
Huckelberry notes that the “administrative record for this project has more fully identified the risks and damages this mine poses, and it is clear the damages and risks are too great.”
Huckelberry states there is legal precedent to deny the 404 permit based on “unacceptable adverse impacts”. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in January 2011 vetoed a 404 permit issued by the Army Corps for the Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia because the discharges created by the mine would have “unacceptable adverse impacts to wildlife”.
The EPA’s veto was upheld by the courts, including the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals that found the EPA has authority to veto Section 404 permits whenever if finds the criteria regarding unacceptable adverse impacts are met.
The EPA San Francisco regional office has repeatedly issued letters to the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Quality that the proposed Rosemont project would inflict severe damage to the environment (here and here). The EPA stated in a November 2013 letter to the Army Corps that the 404 permit for the Rosemont project should be denied.
“The natural and cultural resources, riparian areas, wildlife and environmental values dear to the communities of southern Arizona are quite literally irreplaceable, and the short-term benefits of this particular mine, in this particular location, do not outweigh the significant and permanent degradation mining would cause,” Huckelberry states.