Judge hears appeal of Rosemont Copper air permit

January 6, 2015

Opponents of the Rosemont copper mine are appealing an administrative law judge's ruling that upheld the Department of Environmental Quality's 2013 decision to issue an air-quality permit for the mine.

At a Superior Court hearing, the various parties also argued over whether the mining company properly used computer modeling to show the mine would meet the standards. Both sides accused the other of selectively choosing data to make their case.

At stake is a permit the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality issued nearly two years ago to allow the mine to operate in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 30 miles southeast of Tucson. The permit issue has bounced around for more than three years between the state and Pima County governments since the mining company applied for it, The Arizona Daily Star reported.

The opposition group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas challenged the state permit, first appealing to a state administrative law judge, then to Maricopa County Superior Court after the law judge upheld ADEQ.

The two key issues before Superior Court Judge Crane McClennen are closely related. While all sides agree state rules don’t currently allow ADEQ to require Rosemont Copper to submit computer modeling data predicting the mine’s future emissions, the mining company submitted such data anyway.

The modeling showed the mine would be in compliance with all federal standards, and, as Rosemont pointed out in a legal brief, ADEQ approved the permit after spending more than 500 hours reviewing the application. In its lawsuit, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas criticized data the mining company used to demonstrate compliance and the locations of sites that were used to provide background air-quality levels.

At Monday’s hearing, a Save the Scenic Santa Ritas attorney challenged the view of ADEQ and Rosemont that not only does the state agency lack authority to require the mining company to use computer models to forecast air emissions — it can’t deny the permit if modeling proved problematic for the mine.

During Monday's hearing, lawyers for the opponents, the mine and the regulators argued over whether the mining company properly used computer modeling to show the mine would meet the standards.

The sides agree that state rules don't permit the department to require Rosemont Copper to submit computer modeling data predicting the mine's future emissions, but the mining company submitted data anyway.

They disagree on whether the computer actually shows the mine would be in compliance with all federal standards.

At Monday's hearing, a lawyer for Save the Scenic Santa Ritas attorney challenged the position of the department and Rosemont that the department can't deny the permit if modeling provides evidence that the mine would violate federal air-quality standards.

G. Van Velsor Wolf Jr., an attorney for the Santa Ritas group, cited a state law that says a permit shall be denied if an applicant can't show it is designed in such a way that it "may be expected to operate" without emitting pollutants in violation of state laws and rules.

The mining company and ADEQ, however, contend the state law only directs permit applicants to another law that doesn't contain requirements that specific.

 

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