US environmentalists file lawsuit to overturn approval of Arizona copper mine

Open pit copper mine in Chile. Photo: Reinhard Jahn/Wikimedia Commons

Four US conservation groups have filed suit in federal court to overturn the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of a controversial open-pit copper mine in southern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, says the massive Rosemont Mine would violate nearly a dozen state and federal laws, threaten critical water resources and destroy Coronado National Forest land. The lawsuit was filed by Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “We finally have our day in court before an impartial judge who will consider all the facts and render justice,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.

“We are confident that once all of the facts are presented in court, the Rosemont Mine will be found to be illegal and not allowed to proceed.”

Hudbay Minerals, Rosemont’s Canadian owner, wants to blast a mile-wide, half-mile-deep pit in the Santa Rita Mountains and pile potentially toxic mine tailings and waste rock hundreds of feet high in the Cienega Creek watershed, which replenishes Tucson’s groundwater basin.

More than 5,000 acres would be harmed by the mine, including nearly 4,000 acres of public land that would be covered by the mine’s waste dumps, open pit, processing plant and infrastructure, according to the environmentalists.

They also hold that 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 $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.