EPA Region 9: Rosemont Army Corps Application “Unacceptable”

Dick Kamp Wick Communications Environmental Liaison/2-15-12

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld has sent Colonel Mark Toy, Los Angeles Army Corps of Engineers District Engineer, a February 13 letter rejecting the Augusta Resource Rosemont mine Army Corps Clean Water Act permit application, as written.

Blumenfeld said that review of the application had been transferred to a “higher level”—DC Headquarters of EPA to work with Army Corps.

Permit Action Separate from Forest Service The Army Corps permit is developed cooperatively with EPA under section 404 of the Clean Water Act and is separate from the US Forest Service's Rosemont Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process that is the basis of a decision to allow or reject the mine. The permit must demonstrate that the physical operations of the mine cannot cause damage to “waters of the United States ” including protected waters and tributaries of the Santa Cruz River.

Augusta cannot open the mine without it, and permit decisions are based on information in the EIS. There is no deadline by when a permit must be issued, and it is not affected by the 1872 Mining Act that pressures Forest Service approval of a mine, although the LA District of the Corps has not rejected a mining permit to date. However, EPA has done so elsewhere in the U.S.

Adequate basis for denial Blumenfeld listed six “considerations (that) if unresolved, could provide an adequate basis for (Rosemont) permit denial under the regulations in any environmental setting impacting waters of the U.S. ”

This action follows a January 5 letter sent by Region 9 to Toy stating, in part, that the draft permit was inadequate because it failed to protect the states Outstanding Water designation (for) Davidson Canyon Wash and Cienega Creek (that) must be afforded the highest level of protection and that no degradation of water quality is acceptable.”

Blumenfeld said that no substantial progress has occurred since then, in spite of lengthy input by EPA. Permit problems include:

  • ” inadequate analysis of off-site and on-site alternatives to demonstrate that the proposal is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative
  • ” questionable hydrological assessments concluding that impacts to downstream flows, sediment balance, and chemical contamination will not be significantly adverse or violate state standards”
  • “no biological assessment to guide a determination whether the permit would jeopardize the continued existence …of ten federally listed threatened or endangered species”

EPA believes impaired flows in Davidson Canyon would impact wildlife in Cienega Creek.

“would contribute to the significant degradation of Arizona 's rare and fragile wetland resources…”

”no plan to compensate for unavoidable impacts to waters of the United States ; and

“could negatively impact recreation, aesthetics, and ecotourism, a $2.95 billion regional economy”

High Likelihood of Arsenic and Selenium water pollution

In attachments to the letter, Region 9 expanded preoccupations over fundamental inadequacy of Augusta 's demonstration that the mine will not pollute. In August, EPA challenged the USFS draft EIS section on Rosemont's geochemical sampling of rocks and tailings defining potential water pollution from leach dumps, tailings and overburden rocks. EPA asked the Coronado to work with them to develop more sampling, but the agency said they would decide what was needed.

In the February 13 document, Region 9 concluded, “Based on our evaluation of… test results, the EPA believes the proposed (Rosemont mine) project has a high likelihood of potential arsenic and selenium contamination from seepage waters to downstream waters.

“Based on the information currently available…EPA believes the proposed project will result in significant degradation to the waters of the US, which constitutes substantial and unacceptable impacts to aquatic resources of national importance, including the ‘Outstanding Waters' of Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek.”

Army Corps Biologist Marjorie Blaine who is analyzing the 404 permit application responded to the letter through a spokesman by email, “The (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Army Corps and EPA does not require the Corps to do anything to move the review to D.C.  If the Corps issues the permit over the EPA's objections, then it is EPA's determination as to whether they will elevate the Corps' decision to DC. The Corps provides a copy of (Blumenfeld's) letter to Rosemont and Rosemont provides their response, if they elect to do so.”

See letter from EPA to Army Corps