The announcement this week that the U.S. Forest Service will delay its permitting decision on the proposed Rosemont copper mine in the eastern reaches of the Santa Rita Mountain foothills until next year was sorely disappointing.
Augusta Resources has been attempting since 2007 to get all the regulatory permits necessary to begin mining on about 1,000 acres it owns and using about 3,300 adjacent acres owned by the U.S. government.
It has nearly all the permits it needs save for the Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has to sign off on plans to alter several washes in the area of the mine.
It seems ridiculous that it would take this long to approve a copper mine near a metropolitan area surrounded by copper mines.
The mine is virtually a fait accompli, thanks to a federal law passed in 1872 that stacks the deck in favor of mining.
The law is so favorable to mining that state and federal land, water and air regulators must find extraordinary reasons why a mine can’t be dug.
Those extraordinary reasons don’t exist. Rosemont will be no more impactful to Tucson than the mines that already exist to its west and south, perhaps less so because Augusta is bending over backwards to answer the concerns of detractors and use the latest technologies to minimize the environmental impact of the mine.
Far more so, in fact, than the older, dirtier, water-sucking mines in Green Valley and Marana.
As one might expect, both the mine’s supporters and its opponents are making optimal use of rhetoric and hyperbole to overstate either the harm or the benefit of the mine on metropolitan Tucson and the Santa Rita range.
So far, the best tactic of mine opponents has been one of delay, to drag out the regulatory process so long that it bleeds the company of so much money that it gives up and sells the land to some other miner, much like ASARCO did in the 1990s when its effort to dig a mine there was drug out for years.
That the U.S. Forest Service appears to be playing into the hands of opponents by further delaying its final environmental impact statement is concerning.
Rosemont isn’t the only mining company in Arizona fighting the tactics of delay. Resolution Copper is trying to get the OK to mine near Superior what may end up being the largest copper mine in the country.
But Resolution is going down the road ASARCO tried with the Rosemont land in the ‘90s; it wants to swap environmentally sensitive land it owns for land the U.S. owns that is loaded with copper ore.
To do that, the swap has to be OK’d by the Congress. The latest prognostications are that the Congress is likely to OK the deal.
ASARCO’s attempt to swap land for Rosemont failed and it ended up selling to Augusta, which rather than follow in its predecessor’s path, is trying to get the Forest Service to OK the use of its land for mine tailings and what not.
Avoiding the Congress sounded like a better idea in 2006. Seven years and multiple federal delays later, perhaps not.
Rosemont would be hardly noticeable inside the massive Resolution mine. It would be rather outrageous if thousands of miners are soon able to start hauling ore out of Superior while miners in Tucson sit around waiting for the Forest Service to finally make up its mind about Rosemont.