Rosemont Mine opponents claim in an appeal that Arizona's environmental agency approved an air quality permit for an outdated mine plan and overlooked the likelihood of air quality violations.
The appeal, filed by the opposition group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, points out that Rosemont Copper changed production plans last summer after it had filed an application in 2011 for the air quality permit.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said it stands behind its Jan. 31 permit approval.
Rosemont Copper said in a written statement: "We expect the appeals will be heard in due course, evaluated appropriately, and judged and rejected as without merit."
Save the Scenic Santa Ritas' appeal says the state should have reviewed the air quality impacts of the mine's changed plans, which eliminated heap leaching of copper and increased copper sulfide production. The changes boosted total, planned copper production by about 25 percent.
The state also is reviewing the group's appeal of a separate permit, approved almost a year ago, aimed at insuring the mine won't pollute groundwater. An administrative law judge has held hearings on that appeal. Now, a second set of hearings is required on the new appeal.
Four individuals opposed to the mine also are appealing ADEQ's air permit decision.
When ADEQ issued the air permit on Jan. 31, the agency said its review of Rosemont Copper's computerized air pollution forecasts had originally found the mine's emissions won't violate federal air quality standards for carbon monoxide, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide and particulates. It stuck to that conclusion after thoroughly analyzing and responding in detail to dozens of public comments, the department said in a written statement last week.
ADEQ has said that if the U.S. Forest Service approves the changed Rosemont mine plan, and if those changes cause a significant change in air emissions patterns, the company must amend its air permit.
In appealing, opponents said the state should have required additional pollution controls for the mine because their interpretation of Rosemont's emissions data found that air quality standards are likely to be violated. By reviewing the new mine plans for the permit instead of the old plans, the state would have avoided unnecessary expenses and delays, opponents said.
"ADEQ should have reviewed data about the mine that Rosemont actually intends to build, not data about a plan they discarded more than six months ago," said Dr. Thomas Purdon, a Green Valley physician and board member for the opposition group.
But regardless of the plan, emissions aren't expected to change substantially, Rosemont Copper officials said.
First, the amount of mineral processing equipment and the area the mine will cover is the same in any case, said Kathy Arnold, Rosemont Copper's vice president for regulatory and environmental affairs. Second, the elimination of heap leaching will reduce particulate emissions enough to make up for the total increase in copper production caused by higher sulfide production, she said.
"Once the Forest Service issues its record of decision, and finalizes details on the selected alternative for operation, Rosemont will work with ADEQ to update the permit, if, in fact, there are changes that need to be incorporated," Arnold said.
The appeal also alleged that:
• Rosemont's data indicates that violations of federal air quality standards due to the mine are likely not just at the mine site but in the broader metro area.
• The mine has the potential to emit more than 10 tons annually of some individual hazardous air pollutants and 25 tons in total. Such levels would require a stricter air quality permit. ADEQ has predicted hazardous pollutant emissions well below that level.
• ADEQ relied on data "that was manipulated by Rosemont to hide potential air pollution violations," including misrepresenting weather conditions. David Steele, a spokesman for the opponents, said the group will discuss that allegation in detail at the hearings.
Arnold called that claim "a weak attempt at distracting the public from the plain fact that the state has complied with the law and has completed a thorough and exhaustive review." The fact that the appeals didn't raise new issues confirms that all relevant issues have been fully studied and answered by ADEQ's technical review, she said.
Steele said that's not correct because under state law, new issues can't be raised in appeals - opponents can only appeal on issues they've raised in public comments.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746. Follow him on Twitter at tonydavis987.