Contrary to Augusta Resource Corporation’s misrepresentations to potential investors and others that it only needs one more permit to begin construction of the massive Rosemont Copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson, the Vancouver, B.C.-based junior mining company is far from crossing the regulatory finish line and its future remains very much in doubt.
Mine opponents have filed legal appeals challenging the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s issuance of the Aquifer Protection Permit and Air Pollution Permit to Augusta’s subsidiary, Rosemont Copper Company.
The Aquifer Protection Permit, issued by the ADEQ in 2012, is still under appeal on the grounds that it fails to protect area groundwater supplies. The Arizona Water Quality Appeals Board has not yet ruled on the appeal.
Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a Tucson-based coalition opposed to the mine, filed legal notice Thursday appealing ADEQ’s issuance of an air pollution permit to Rosemont. The legal notice states that ADEQ based the permit on a mine plan that Rosemont withdrew last summer and that Rosemont manipulated data in computer modeling to reduce projected emissions.
Contrary to Augusta’s claims, its Rosemont Copper Company subsidiary final regulatory approval is pending for its air and water permits.
In addition, Augusta still needs Rosemont to obtain the following permits and regulatory approvals:
- The US Forest Service must complete a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and issue a Record of Decision on the proposed mile-wide, half-mile deep pit that will dump poisonous waste rock and tailings on more than 3,000 acres of National Forest. In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency gave Rosemont’s draft EIS its lowest possible rating and concluded that it was one of the worst EIS’s ever reviewed. The Forest Service process has been delayed in large part by Rosemont’s failure to provide requested information and by the company’s decision to dramatically change its mining proposal in July 2012.
- The US Army Corps of Engineers must issue a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit that allows Rosemont to pollute area waterways. As with the EIS, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2012 that the Rosemont Mine would cause “significant degradation” of area waterways, including “substantial and unacceptable impacts” to Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek.
- The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must issue a Biological Opinion assessing whether the Rosemont Mine would jeopardize nearly a dozen threatened and endangered species, including the jaguar, ocelot and southwestern willow flycatcher. In addition, the FWS is in the process of designating critical habitat for both jaguars and the southwestern willow flycatcher that may include the Rosemont Mine site. A male jaguar has been repeatedly photographed in close proximity to the mine site. Federal agencies are not allowed to approve actions that destroy or adversely modify critical habitat for endangered species. The Arizona Department of Game and Fish had previously concluded that the Rosemont Mine “will render the northern portion of the Santa Rita Mountains virtually worthless as wildlife habitat and as a functioning ecosystem, and thus also worthless for wildlife recreation.
- The Forest Service must also consult with the State Historic Preservation Office and, potentially, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to ensure that the Rosemont Mine doesn’t adversely affect historic and cultural sites, including traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation and other Native American Tribes.