The latest court decision involving the Rosemont Mine resulted in a halt to construction, which was to begin soon. Opponents to the mine are giddy with excitement, proponents are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. The mining company plans to appeal.
If we set aside the fight, step back and look at the saga from the beginning to this latest turn of events, what does the common resident see?
As a common resident myself, I’ll tell you what I see. I see an approval process that has gone on for over ten years and has yet to resolve, special interests that have used the courts as a weapon and bad faith all around.
The judge in this latest case and the Forest Service are in conflict. The situation is complicated by the fact that the main deposit is on private land owned by the mining company. Under the plan submitted in 2007, a piece of Forest Service land adjacent to the mine pit will be used for the tailings pile.
The judge claims that the mine has no right to deposit tailings on the National Forest land because the mine has no valid mining claim on National Forest land, and there could be no valid claim since there are no valuable minerals below the dump site. The Forest Service said that it could authorize it as part of a proper mining plan. The judge said it could not.
So, I infer from the judge’s statements that, if the hole was dug on Forest Service land, they could dump tailings on the site in question all day long; but if it was adjacent to the Forest Service land, it could not be permitted.
A lawyer might ask, “Has a tortured interpretation of the law been employed to reach a predetermined outcome?”, we regular folk might ask, “Is this chicken poop or what?”
Let’s take another step back and ask, “What is the mission of the Forest Service?”
We often hear preservationists refer to “our public lands” as if all government- owned real estate is a National Park. The fact of the matter is that there are tracts of land owned by governments at all levels. At the federal level, the two agencies most familiar to us common folk are the National Park Service (part of the Department of the Interior) and the Forest Service (a part of the Department of Agriculture).
They are two separate agencies with two distinctly separate missions. The Forest Service maintains large tracts of forested land to be used for a variety of uses from tree harvesting to mining to recreation — managed in a manner that preserves them for future generations.
The National Park Service maintains uniquely spectacular and beautiful pieces of land to be preserved for people to view and experience. I had a friend, a forestry major, who described National Parks as our crown jewels and the National Forests as our industrial diamonds.
The Coronado National Forest is not a National Park. Different mission.
I heard a term long ago that continues to haunt me. I attended Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting a decade or so ago during which the mine was discussed. A young woman, some sort of engineer or geologist, pointed out that if your concern really is environmental quality you would want the mine here. If the copper we need is not mined here, it will probably be mined in places where environmental controls, where they exist, pale before ours. Were we to send mining abroad, we would be engaging in “environmental imperialism.” I realized that she was correct.
Sometimes when we get so caught up in the fight, we lose track of that we are fighting for.