For Immediate Release, December 28, 2010
||Gayle Hartmann, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, (520) 325-6974
Randy Serraglio, Center for Biological Diversity (520) 784-1504
David Steele, Farmers Investment Co., (520) 321-1111 (office), (520) 907-2620 (cell)
Rosemont Mine EIS Process Violating Federal Law
Business and Environmental Coalition Calls for Transparency
TUCSON, Ariz.— The Coronado National Forest is violating federal law as it develops the environmental impact statement for the Rosemont mine by allowing representatives of Rosemont Copper to participate in closed-door meetings. In a Dec. 27 letter sent to Coronado National Forest Service Supervisor James Upchurch, three organizations — Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity and Farmers Investment Co. — pointed out that allowing Rosemont Copper to participate in these meetings is a clear violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and urged Upchurch and the Forest Service to begin the Rosemont environmental impact statement process anew or face legal action.
“We were dismayed when we learned that Rosemont had been attending many Forest Service meetings regarding the proposed mine,” said Gayle Hartmann of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. “Their presence clearly adds serious bias to an already extremely controversial situation. The Forest Service should stop the environmental impact statement process until they figure out a solution that excludes Rosemont or invites the public so that all points of view can be heard. The public needs to have confidence that the Forest Service is independently evaluating this applicant's proposal to use our public lands.”
On a regular and systematic basis, the Forest Service has allowed representatives of Rosemont Copper to participate in cooperating agency meetings, contrary to the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Congress enacted this statute, in part, to ensure that the public’s interest is fully represented in meetings where nongovernment interests participate and data is evaluated and advice and recommendations are given to federal agencies in their decision-making process.
Based on information provided by the Forest Service, Rosemont Copper representatives have attended at least 18 of the 23 cooperating agency meetings between April 1, 2009, and September 15, 2010. Moreover, allowing Rosemont Copper to participate in these meetings is inconsistent with Coronado National Forest’s own specific guidance on the Rosemont environmental impact statement process. Its website explains that meetings that are only attended by representatives of cooperating agencies or other governmental entities are “exempt from FACA," but that exemption does not apply if nongovernmental representatives (such as Rosemont Copper) are a regular part of the meetings.
These meetings were neither publicly noticed nor open to the public, and organizations representing the widespread community opposition to the mine were not afforded the same opportunity to participate in these critical meetings, as Rosemont Copper was.
"The process to analyze Rosemont Copper's proposal to destroy the north end of the Santa Rita Mountains with a massive open-pit copper mine has been flawed from the start, but now it appears to be fatally flawed,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It has become apparent that this aspect of Rosemont’s participation in the process is in clear violation of the law.”
The Forest Service has clearly created a process that reflects unbalanced representation and input by the private party that has the most to gain financially from this very proposal. “Rosemont Copper and its parent company Augusta Resource have an obvious vested interest in the outcome of the Forest Service’s process — enriching its investors,” said Nan Walden of Farmers Investment Co. “However, it is imperative that the Forest Service protect the interests of its investors — the American taxpaying public. The Forest Service should either kick Rosemont out of the room or let the public in. Before going any further on the environmental impact statement, the Forest Service must take steps to ensure that the public interest has a higher priority than the interests of Rosemont’s investors.”
On September 30, 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a Freedom of Information Act request concerning the cooperating agency meetings pertaining to the Rosemont Copper proposal. To date, the Forest Service has failed to turn over the majority of documents requested by the Center. Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center and Farmers Investment Co. are calling on the Forest Service to halt the environmental impact statement process and only reinitiate it when the Forest Service is fully compliant with both the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Freedom of Information Act — and until the public can be assured that important decisions about its public lands are made without undue influence from a single party.
“For some time now, Rosemont Copper has been pushing to fast-track the required analysis of its proposal, apparently on the assumption that it will be approved,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center. “However, the Santa Rita mountain range is a precious resource for the people of southern Arizona just the way it is. It is absolutely essential that the Coronado National Forest takes the time to thoroughly and objectively analyze this complex and potentially devastating proposal. It should immediately release the requested documents and halt the environmental impact statement process until it can ensure that it is being conducted legally and objectively."
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Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR) is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization, based in Tucson, Arizona. It was established in 1996 to protect the scenic, aesthetic, recreational and wildlife values of the Santa Rita Mountains through education and outreach.
Farmers Investment Co. (FICO) is a family-owned farm that grows pecans on approximately 7,000 acres it owns in the Upper Santa Cruz River Valley near Sahuarita, Arizona.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.