A new Washington, D.C.-based mining advocacy group is criticizing the U.S. Forest Service for its recent decision not to rule on the Rosemont Mine this month as previously planned.
The group, Mined in America, said in a news release that Arizona workers are "paying a heavy price for this unreasonable postponement."
"With so many Americans out of work and such a tremendous need for American natural resources so that we can revitalize manufacturing, it's time for regulators to stop delaying and allow this project to move forward," said Maurice Daniel, executive director of the group, in an interview.
"Let's be clear: All of us want a responsible process. All of us view Rosemont as an opportunity to come together to create jobs and jump-start our economy. And yet unnecessary bureaucratic delays create a real lose-lose situation," Daniel said.
In response, Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch reiterated his past statements that the service must clear up unresolved issues about the proposed open-pit copper mine near Tucson to make sure it meets all laws before approving it. These include issues involving Endangered Species Act rules, cultural and historical resources and air quality, among others.
In all, Rosemont's permit application with the Forest Service has been pending five years - compared with a seven- to 10-year U.S. average, according to a study done by an international mining advisory group.
"The Rosemont project is a complex and controversial proposal that affects important and valuable natural, cultural and community resource values in Southern Arizona," Upchurch wrote in an email to the Star. "These are not bureaucratic delays but rather important and required analyses and consultations that must be completed prior to a decision being made."
started in September
Mined in America, which formed in September, calls itself a coalition of labor, mining and other business interest groups that supports "government policies that promote developing domestic supplies of mineral resources through environmentally sound modern American mining."
It sees domestic mining as a key to rebuilding U.S. manufacturing, and says copper is essential for everything from "wind turbines and solar panels to plumbing and everyday appliances."
This is the first time a national mining group has stepped into the Rosemont controversy. National environmental groups such as Earthworks, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife have opposed the mine, while local chapters of the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and the League of Conservation Voters belong to the Rosemont opposition group that calls itself Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.
Mined in America director Daniel was political director for Democrat Al Gore when Gore was vice president. He also worked as a top aide in the 2004 Democratic presidential campaign of Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt.
On Rosemont, the group issued a news release giving the proposed mine in the Santa Rita Mountains a "Shovel Ready" award.
"The Arizona site is home to a copper deposit of more than 4 billion pounds - the annual production of which will satisfy 5 percent of the total U.S. copper need. ... Unlike previous Arizona copper mines, Rosemont Copper has proposed integrating never-before-used water conservation and recycling techniques as well as lighting systems to preserve the natural environment," the news release said.
It cited company estimates that the mine would create more than 400 direct jobs, paying nearly $60,000 average salaries, and 1,600 indirect jobs.
As for Upchurch's comments, Daniel said in an interview that he can't get into "every nut and bolt" about the Forest Service's delays, but "we need a process that you can go through A-B-C. I don't want to oversimplify it. I know it is a very detailed, difficult process at times. But we think it can be more efficient and standardized."
The Internal Revenue Service classifies the group as a tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) nonprofit. Such groups organize to promote social welfare and are allowed to lobby, but not to get involved in election campaigns. Unlike other nonprofits, they don't have to disclose donors.
Asked for specific members, the group named four out of a total of 80: The Milwaukee and Michigan Building and Construction Trades Councils, Lester Building Systems LLC of Michigan and Johnson Refrigerated Truck of Wisconsin.
Environmental groups opposed to Rosemont took strong issue with Mined in America's comments.
Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Forest Service has often had to wait for Rosemont Copper to produce information.
"The Coronado is doing the right thing in insisting on accountability," Serraglio said. "The Coronado has a duty to protect these public lands, as well as the people and wildlife that depend on them."
Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, and Elizabeth Webb, a Vail activist, noted that the Dos Pobres Mine in Safford, which opened in the mid-2000s, needed a decade to get its permits, although part of that was because it had to pull off a land exchange first. The Carlota Mine in Central Arizona also took more than a decade to receive its permits, said Hartmann.
"This group's comment is completely out of line," said Hartmann, speaking of Mined in America. "They're an industry-based group, trying to prop up an unpopular industry."
Globally, the United States is tied with Papua New Guinea as the country that takes the longest time of 25 studied to permit a new mine - seven to 10 years, said a study prepared by Behre Dolbear Group, an international mining advisory group. The group said permitting delays are "the most significant risks to mining projects in the United States."
The U.S. fared better, sixth from the best of the 25 countries, when the study's researchers lumped permitting times with six other factors, including a country's political and economic systems, degree of corruption and stability of currency.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at email@example.com or 806-7746.