The U.S. Forest Service cannot allow 2,400+ acres of southern Arizona wilderness to be buried under 1.9 billion tons of the Rosemont Copper mine’s waste rock. That was the opinion today from a divided Ninth Circuit panel that delivered a big win to the coalition of environmental and Native American groups battling the southern Arizona mine.

The Center for Biological Diversity is leading the long-running litigation battle, along with the Sierra Club, Tohono O’odham Nation, Hopi Tribe and Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

Judge William Fletcher wrote the 38-page majority opinion, blasting the Forest Service’s decision:

The Mining Law allows mining companies to occupy federal land on which valuable minerals have been found, as well as non-mineral federal land for mill sites, essentially free of charge. Rosemont wants to permanently occupy 2,447 acres of National Forest land with its waste rock, essentially free of charge, even though no valuable minerals have been found on that land and no mill sites have been established. On the current administrative record, the Service de facto amended the Multiple Use Act and the Mining Law to give Rosemont what it wants.

He finished by saying that Congress needs to revise the antiquated Mining Law. “But amendment of the Mining Law is a task for Congress, not for the Service, and certainly not for us.”

Judge Danielle Forrest dissent, but concluded that it should have been remanded to determine whether the Forest Service complied with regulations that may have permitted the waste rock on that site.

The proposed mine in the Santa Rita Mountains and Coronado National Forest would be expected to produce 5 billion pounds of copper with the 3,000 foot deep (open) pit. The waste rock (tailings and waste rock) pile would be 2 1/2 times as large as the pit, and both would exist in perpetuity.

No word yet on whether the Forest Service or the proposed mine’s Canadian owner (Hudbay Minerals) will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This article was reported by AZ Law founder Paul Weich. Paul is currently running for a seat in Arizona’s House of Representatives.

“AZ Law” includes articles, commentaries and updates about opinions from the Arizona Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court, as well as trial and appellate courts, etc. AZ Law is founded by Phoenix attorney Paul Weich, and joins Arizona’s Politics on the internet. 

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