The U.S. Bureau of Land Management defended its 2012 decision to issue permit for the Mt. Hope molybdenum mine near Eureka, NV in front of a three-judge panel on Oct. 18.
At issues is if the mine owner, Eureka Moly, LLC is doing enough to protect air and water in the rural Nevada community where they want to dig.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that opponents of the mine want judges to override a 2012 decision by the BLM to permit mine. They say the BLM erred in issuing the permits by overlooking an executive order in 1926 by then-President Calvin Coolidge that stated, “all land within one quarter of a mile of every spring or water be reserved for public use.”
The order, known as Public Water Reserve 107, was meant to protect shared water sources on public land.
If the argument is successful it could have wider ramifications across the western United States wherever mines have the potential to damage or dry up nearby springs on public land.
“We just don’t think the record supports their decision to essentially ignore protecting the public water reserves,” Roger Flynn, an attorney for the plaintiffs, Great Basin Resource Watch and Western Shoshone Defense Project, told a three-judge panel during oral arguments at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The argument prompted Presiding Judge Susan Graber to ask Robert Lundman, an attorney for the BLM, whether the agency was justified in permitting the mine in light of previous findings that suggested the springs in question were important to the surrounding community.
“The Supreme Court has said when an agency changes its position … the agency must go through a process of explaining in detail and justifying its position,” Graber said.
Lundman responded the environmental impact statement served as the justification.
“The EIS here addresses each spring and shows data by spring and that they are not important,” Lundman said. “There are 31 springs in the area and we are talking about four.”
Great Basin Resource Watch and the Western Shoshone Defense Project are plaintiffs in the case against the Bureau of Land Management and Eureka Moly, LLC.
The case is on appeal after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones in Reno denied the plaintiffs’ complaint in 2014.