U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ron Barber want the Forest Service to take its time deciding on the Rosemont Mine. They've written a letter to that effect to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Viilsack, who oversees the Forest Service. The service is currently weighing not only a decision on the long-debated mine, but when to make the decision.
But they're being challenged by the president of Tucson's Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President and CEO Mike Varney says the congressmen are guilty of "anti-business, anti-job interference," and thinks they should be trying to speed the review up.
Gov. Jan Brewer also wrote a recent letter urging the Forest Service to move expeditiously on a mine decision, saying that she believes that the various interest groups involved in the mine issue "have developed a very workable mine plan that balances environmental and economic issues."
Raising concerns that the Forest Service is trying to "fast track" its analyses of 17 cooperating agency comments on the latest draft of the mine's environmental impact statement, Barber and Grijalva wrote that the Forest Service should "take the time required to get the job done right."
"The Forest Service has no obligation to rush through an environmental assessment," the Tucson congressmen's Aug. 15 letter said. "The agency's duty, first and foremost, is to assess the proposed mine's impacts on Arizona's natural resources, water supplies and public health. Such a review should take the time that is appropriate to ensure full input from the public and stakeholders."
But Varney wrote in a message posted on Rosemont Copper's Facebook page that "those of us who are trying to move our local economy forward" to get Rosemont's planned 450 long-term jobs and 1,200 construction jobs going "are outraged that after more than six years we still have federal officials asking the U.S. Forest Service to 'slow down' the process."
"For the record, there have been more than 15 public meetings about the Rosemont Copper project," Varney wrote. "A similar approval process takes two years in Canada. Rosemont's approval process is in its seventh year.
"If Congressmen Barber and Grijalva were really serious about job creation, they would have made a different choice. Instead of asking the Forest Service to slow down the agonizingly slow permitting process, they would have been doing everything to speed it along so the jobs would materialize, our unemployed or under-employed citizens would be put back to work and the tax revenues estimated to be $19 million a year could begin flowing from the Rosemont Copper operation."
The exchange comes as the Forest Service considers whether it can make its Rosemont decision by Sept. 27. That's when new Forest Service rules kick in that would delay a decision for at least several months if not longer, so opponents of the mine could object formally before the service makes a decision rather than file appeals afterward.
Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch has said he'd like to make a decision by Sept. 27, but can't guarantee that he and his staff will be able to sift through an expected large load of comments on his draft environmental report by then. The comments came Aug. 15 from the 17 cooperating state, local and federal agencies working on the mine project.
In her July 30 letter to Upchurch, Brewer made no reference to the Sept. 27 timeline. She simply encouraged Upchurch to move "expeditiously to complete your review of the draft (final environmental report) and issue a record of decision."
She wrote that that Upchurch's efforts to use a collaborative process involving numerous interest groups has resulted in "conserving thousands of acres of land and the water resources with that land, using renewable energies and reducing light pollution by employing special lighting applications.
"This project has the potential to employ thousands of Arizonans during its construction phase and an additional 450 high paying jobs during the mine's life, benefiting a region of the state that needs employment opportunities," Brewer wrote.
Grijalva and Barber, however, warned in their letter that an expedited review could lead to an incomplete and less thoughtful analysis of the agency comments on the environmental report.
"The Forest Service promulgated these regulations for the explicit purpose of resolving conflicts prior to a decision, and there is no need to avoid following them for this particular" environmental impact statement, the congressmen said.