The protracted debate over a proposed air quality permit for the Rosemont Mine could get longer.
Rosemont Copper might need to revise its request for the permit, an Arizona Department of Environmental Quality official said.
That's because of changes to the mine plans recently announced by the company, said Trevor Baggiore, deputy director of ADEQ's air quality division. Those changes would boost copper production by 25 percent compared to what Rosemont officials predicted when they filed their state air-quality permit application last year.
Baggiore made the comment after a recent public hearing in Tucson on the permit. He was responding to comments from mine opponents, in the group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, that the proposed permit is a "bait and switch" because it doesn't reflect the company's current plans.
The permit, one of many the company has had to obtain, has provoked a particularly contentious debate. The state took the permitting authority over from Pima County last summer at Rosemont Copper's request, after the county denied the permit and a judge overturned the denial on procedural grounds, calling it "arbitrary and capricious."
The proposed permit is based on Rosemont Copper's original mining plan, which included conventional copper sulfide production and heap leaching to extract copper oxide from ore.
This summer, responding to the U.S. Forest Service's preferences for the mine's use of forest land, the company eliminated heap leaching plans. At the same time, it announced the discovery of sharply higher sulfide reserves.
By itself, eliminating heap leaching won't require permit changes because that wouldn't increase emissions, ADEQ's Baggiore said. If higher copper sulfide production produces more emissions, "they would have to come back and revise their permit before they increase production," he said.
Whether those changes would require more public hearings and comments also depends on the impact on emissions, Baggiore said.
"It's spelled out fairly clearly in the state rules what changes require public comment and which ones don't," he said.
Baggiore's comments were "good news" to Tom Purdon, a Save the Scenic Santa Ritas board member. He contends that if Rosemont Copper doesn't process oxide ore, that will create more waste rock and bigger tailings piles - and more emissions.
"They've gotta blast and crush more, and there will be more dust, not less," Purdon said.
Rosemont Copper says it doesn't expect the amount of material it produces, and its rate of processing, and therefore its emissions, to change for whatever alternative the Forest Service chooses for the mine plan, Rosemont's Kathy Arnold said. Once the service decides, it will be time to discuss with ADEQ staff any changes needed, she said.
"Our role is to provide information to the different regulatory agencies, and we do not speculate on the final outcome of this process," said Arnold, vice president for environmental affairs.
testimony at hearing
At the Oct. 9 hearing, at which 51 people spoke, Steve Hildebrand, a mining engineer for 40 years, said he has worked all over the world and seen mines and residences go together repeatedly.
"Rosemont will address the air quality question. It's a 21st century company. They will do a good job. There's been 150 years of mining in this state," Hildebrand said.
Wayne Rutschman, an executive for CTI Inc., which hauls bulk commodities, testified the company has invested a lot of money in new equipment to haul products from the mine, and he knows that Rosemont is committed to similar investments.
Mike Verbout, a business manager for local 570 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the state's takeover of the air permit was dictated by the county government "turning this process political.
"Typically, I am not in favor of giving folks in Phoenix some jurisdiction over us, but the county's actions dictated this," Verbout said. "I do expect the state to dictate the high standards required for this permit … and when the requirements are met, to issue the permit."
But Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter criticized the ADEQ's takeover of the permit. He added the group is concerned about hazardous air pollutants.
ADEQ predicts 3 tons a year. However, retired air pollution expert Joel Fisher said the mine has the potential to emit up to 31 tons. Fisher, a Rosemont opponent from Green Valley, said he has 50 years of experience working on pollution's ecological and human health impacts.
Ellen Garms, a retired teacher, testified that the permit application fails to discuss how Rosemont will control fugitive dust blowing from the mine's immense stack of tailings, standing 800 feet tall.
"We are not fighting jobs. We want our people healthy," said Garms.
ADEQ's Baggiore agreed that the tailings would be 600 to 800 feet high, but said that only the top 40 feet or so are expected to produce air emissions. Rosemont Copper will build a rock barrier around the tailings pile to prevent them from blowing off the property, he said.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746.