In the latest development surrounding the proposed Rosemont mine in southern Arizona, two environmental groups – the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR) – filed suit August 16 to overturn a key state permit the project recently received.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently issued an aquifer-protection permit to the Rosemont Mine’s developer, Augusta Resources Corp. Located about 30 miles south of Tucson, the Rosemont mine, once in operation, would lead to the extraction of what are thought to be considerable deposits of copper, silver, and molybdenum. The DEQ’s permit comes on the heels of the release in July of the U.S. Forest Service’s preliminary final environmental impact statement, which expressed some concerns about the project’s impact on its surroundings but was seen as largely favorable to the mine’s development.

In a suit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, the plaintiffs charge that the DEQ’s permit should not have been issued. “Despite the grave threat the Rosemont mine poses to Tucson’s water supply, the Department of Environmental Quality chose to take the company’s claims at face value and rubber-stamp this permit application without real independent review,” said CBD conservation advocate Randy Serraglio (Greenwire, August 21).

Needless to say, the mine’s developers see it differently. “The issues and concerns of many parties have been addressed, through careful project facility citing, technology selection, pollution prevention, land and water set-asides, compensatory mitigation funding, community endowment efforts, and voluntary acquisition of ranches and rare surface water rights for preservation of habitat values,” James Sturgess, senior vice president at Augusta Resources, said in a statement.

Years in development, the Rosemont mine still has many more hurdles to clear. The highest is probably the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA, which together with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for Section 404 permits under the Clean Water Act, has expressed concerns about the proposed mine. Earlier in the year, EPA Regional Wetlands Supervisor Jason Brush raised questions about Rosemont’s Habitat and Mitigation Monitoring Plan. “In summary,” he wrote, “we believe implementation of the [plan] would fail to fully compensate for the project’s impact on regulated waters.” (Greenwire, July 3)

Driven primarily by the economic slowdown in China, prices for commodities, including gold, copper, and silver, have fallen in recent months. Mining companies, however, are rarely bothered by short-term fluctuation in prices. Their view is that precious metals are a mainstay of a growing economy and that countries that stand in the way of their responsible extraction are undermining their future.