The state's environmental agency gave a boost to the Rosemont Mine on Friday by taking over its air-quality permitting from Pima County - and by proposing approval.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's action removed Pima County - the mine's biggest adversary among local governments - from its most important role in approving Rosemont, although County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says the mine will still need two other county approvals.
ADEQ said it is proposing to approve a Rosemont air-quality permit, will hold public hearings in September and October and decide by mid-February.
The agency's officials wrote county officials Friday that they are providing "regulatory certainty" for the permitting, which has lasted well over a year and drawn two Rosemont lawsuits against the county. The mining company appealed last year to the state to take the permitting process over, on the grounds that the state, not the county, has legal jurisdiction.
ADEQ Director Henry Darwin wrote Friday that the county's actions, including a permit denial almost a year ago, have caused the company "significant regulatory uncertainty."
The state's proposed permit contains several measures that are stricter than the county originally proposed in its Rosemont permit of 2011, Darwin wrote. Those measures will insure the mine's emissions meet federal, state and local requirements, he wrote to Ursula Kramer, director of the County Department of Environmental Quality.
Huckelberry accused the state of trying to put Rosemont's approval "on a fast track," since the state only this week posted a public notice about the permit and will start taking comments on Monday. He also said Rosemont is responsible for the uncertainty because its original permit application lacked needed technical information and detailed computer-based studies of air emissions.
Rosemont Copper noted ADEQ's stricter provisions in its statement on the state takeover. The state also gave clear permitting time schedules and steps for it to follow, Rosemont officials said.
ADEQ's action "makes a strong statement to other businesses looking to come to Arizona that the state is business friendly and looking for good corporate partners to generate revenue, provide good wages and put people to work," Rosemont Copper President and CEO Rod Pace said.
ADEQ said its move to take over the permit stems from a Pima County Superior Court judge's July 5 ruling that the county's denial of the permit was "arbitrary and capricious." The judge didn't order the county to issue a permit, but did order it to take more information from the company on what legal requirements Rosemont Copper must meet.
Darwin wrote Kramer on Friday that no other air-quality permit holder in the county for at least a decade had been required to list all applicable requirements for getting a permit. "Due to the confusion and uncertainty caused by the inappropriate denial," and to make sure duplicative permits aren't required, the state is asserting jurisdiction, Darwin wrote.
Huckelberry wrote in a July 19 memo that the county had no choice but to deny the permit because it lacked technical details, including proof that the mine would meet standards.
"The judge acknowledged the submission was incomplete because his ruling allowed Rosemont to supplement their application and provide the missing information," Huckelberry wrote Friday in an email to the Star. The county also recently issued permits for the Marana Landfill and the Oracle Ridge Mine in very short time frames and with both regulatory certainty and clarity, he said.
Rosemont Vice President Kathy Arnold said, "ADEQ has spent many months evaluating our air permit application and giving us important feedback in ensuring Rosemont Copper's project meets national standards for air quality.
"The public needs to understand this isn't about Rosemont. It's about the long-term credibility of our government in Pima County to safely administer important air standards," said Arnold, Rosemont's vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs.
But Sierra Club activist Sandy Bahr tweeted Friday afternoon, "So much for local control?"
On StarNet: Read more environment-related articles at azstarnet.com/news/science/environment
TO GET MORE INFO OR TO COMMENT
• The draft Arizona Department of Environmental Quality air quality permit for the Rosemont Mine is at www.azdeq.gov/download/calendar/080312dp2.pdf
• Written comments must be sent by Oct. 9 to Balaji Vaidyanathan, air quality permits section manager, ADEQ, 1110 W. Washington St., 3415A-1, Phoenix, AZ 85007 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
• ADEQ will hold a public hearing on the permit at 6 p.m., Oct. 9, at the Sycamore Elementary School, 16701 S. Houghton Road, in Vail. A hearing will be held in mid-September at a location to be determined.