The White House is informally involved in the contentious Rosemont Mine issue, Coronado Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said today.

The White House's Council on Environmental Quality is, in a sense, acting as a referee among various federal agencies that have taken different positions on the mine, Upchurch said at a news conference. The conference was called to discuss the draft decision he released Friday that would, if ratified in a few months, approve a mining layout for the $1.2 billion copper project in the Santa Rita Mountains.

"We are having substantive discussions with CEQ and other entities," said Upchurch, referring to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

The various groups have made "great progress" toward agreeing on the mine's impacts on air and water quality, he said. Only a few months ago all three were writing sharply critical comments accusing the Forest Service of understating the project's impacts.

But Upchurch said that the Forest Service and EPA, for instance, have made lots of progress even since Nov. 7, when EPA wrote its fourth in a series of highly critical letters on the project to other federal agencies.

What remains to be settled is mitigation, and that's what the agencies are trying to work out now, he said.

If the various parties can't agree on how to compensate for  the mine's impacts on air and water, one of them could refer the issue to the White House council for formal action. CEQ could, for instance, theoretically determine that the final environmental impact statement recently released by the Forest Service is inadequate and order it rewritten, or conclude there's no problem and allow the approval process to proceed.

Upchurch declined to speculate on the odds of the agencies reaching an agreement without a formal referral to CEQ.

"We're having substantive discussions with the EPA, BLM and park service, to try to resolve these issues," he said.