To: Secretary USDA Tom Vilsack and FS Chief Tom Tidwell
From: Nancy Freeman
Date: March 5, 2012
I was happy to learn of the rewrite of the National Forest planning rule. The greater emphasis on protection, restoration and water preservation rather than commodity explotation is most welcome and consistent with the Organic and Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Acts.
And I do know about mining pollution. I spent six years of my life getting clean water in my community from the local Sierrita copper mine that was polluting our public wells with sulfates. Radioactive chemicals also exist in the plume, but they had not reached the public wells yet. When that project was going well, I thought I could take a break—but no, the Forest Service began enabling another mining project in the region that will take our public lands and turn them into toxic waste dumps with a big jewel of a toxic pit in the middle of the forest. My first report on the proposed Rosemont mine in the Coronado Forest was in February, 2007. So I have spent 10 years of my life—without any pay—getting clean water for my community, then trying to prevent others to have to go through what I did to obtain clean drinking water. And of course to have an adequate water supply, which is a prevalant issue in the Southwest.
The history of the formation and development of the National Forests reserves is replete with the need to preserve the forests for a healthy environment and water supply, as well as habitat for wildlife and recreational uses. A Forest Planning Rule that purports to protect, conserve forests, and even contemplates spending money to restore forests and watersheds while ignoring the irreversible destruction of hardrock, pit mining on thousands of acres of “forest reserves” cannot be valid and will not be upheld in a court of law.
In a law suit in 2003, Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, ruled that the Bureau of Land Management has the authority to and must prevent substantial damage to public lands under the undue or unnecessary degradation (UUD) standard of the Federal Lands Management and Policy Act (FLPMA)
The Forest Service comes under that same Management Act. The FS personnel tout their multi-use mandate, but I can't find a single allusion to covering the forest with toxic pit lakes, waste rock and slurry, all with toxic heavy metals, as one of the “uses” called out for our forest reserves. The actions of the Forest Service in permiting mining will affect an entire region in ways that EIS's and EA's do not address. The residents of the region of the proposed Rosemont mine on Coronado National Forest reserves listed 145 effects of the proposed mine on the local citizens and environment.
If a Planning Rule is passed without stopping this destruction, the Forest Service will have to change their mission statement to
Further, the Forest Service (FS) will have to remove their “For a healthy environment, keep your forests green” signs throughout the Southwest. They represent a hypocritical double-speak—enjoining the public to protect the forests while the FS permits their destruction.
I do understand that the persons writing the new Forest Planning Rule know nothing about mining —or they would not be ignoring it. (This ignorance is good example of why National Forests should be withdrawn from mining.) To get an idea of the devastation, I implore you to take a glimpse of photos from our local mine on private land: Photos of Sierrita mine, Pima County, AZ
And please check out the report sent to Congresspersons Grijalva and Giffords in regard to withdrawing the local Tucson, Arizona mountains from mining because of the multiple ramifications to the environment and community. True, this is a local situation, but the issues are the same at every hardrock, pit mine.
And take a look at the old growth oak trees that are destined to be destroyed by mining in Arizona:
Letter to Chief Tidwell, December 2010
Reply from Deputy Joel Holtrop, March 2011
Second Letter to Chief Tidwell, January 2012
The costs, liabilities and consequences of mining are many, as delineated below. However, a major fallacy needs to be cleared up. The continual allusions to the 1872 mining law as if written in stone. Good—because the 1872 mining law only covers surface mining of following mineral veins. It did not include placer mining—and crushing and milling bedrock of only 2% and less mineral falls into the category of placer mining. Further, the mining law specifically states that the miner can “patent” 5 acres of land to serve for the facilities. In a case in Arizona, the mining company plans to 3,500 acres of “unpatented” forest land for their 90 patented claims. According to the 1872 mining law, they are entitled to a total of 450 “patented” acres. The law also states that the miners must be American citizens. So to tout the 1872 mining law is to give an excuse, not a reason.
Bottom Line: First, I want to know how these scenarios—mentioned above and detailed below—fit into the “purpose and need for action,” enumerated in the first chapter of the planning rule.* Second, I want to know how these scenarios fit into Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's “vision” of the future of our forests.**
There are many reasons that all the National Forests should be withdrawn from mining:
The greatest cost to Federal and local taxpayers has been the cost of bringing water to Arizona. The cost of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) to install a pipeline to bring Colorado River water to Phoenix was 4.7 billion. Of this 2.4 billion was to come from Federal taxpayers (plus the 1 billion for the de-sal plant at Yuma , which operated for 4 months). However, because of the Indian water settlement, .65 billion was subtracted from the Arizona share and added to the Federal share. So the total cost to Federal Taxpayers was 4.05 billion + $73 millions waived fee to cotton subsidy farmers to bring water to Arizona .
While we Arizona taxpayers are still paying off the CAP bill on our property taxes, another federal agency that purports to protect watersheds is permitting a high water use project that will take water from the upstream side of Tucson Basin while also polluting the watershed.
The process to permit a mine on Forest Service reserves is costly to the Forest Service. I have requested an accounting from the National Forest Service office for the amount of dollars the local Coronado Forest Service has expended of their time in accommodating a mining company, instead of managing, conserving and protection our forests for current and future use.
There are not many things that are certain in today's world, but I am certain of one thing: The U.S. taxpayers have not been papying the Forest Service to manage the forest for some 100 years only to see it be destroyed by mining. I cannot find a single reference to such a scenario in any of the Acts governing the National Forest. How does the Forest Service plan to reimburse the taxpayers their mis-spent money?
On March 5, 2008, a Forest Service representative signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rosemont Copper Company (aka Augusta Resource). The Forest Service's proposed action, which is "administrative" in nature, is “to approve the MPO [Mine Plan of Operations], which would, in turn, grant permission to the Proponent to build and operate specific mine-related facilities on [unpatented] NFS land.”
I challenge the Forest Service. You have outlined 16 pages of commitments to the mining company. What is your responsibility and commitment to the public who are the owners of the forest and the taxpayers who maintain these the lands and pay your salaries?
A hidden cost is for the perpetual oversight the States and Federal Government. No one ever figures that into their figures on the cost to the taxpayers of having these mines that produce profits and metals for the foreign markets.
Another uncountable cost is the time, money and energy expended by the local concerned citizens for the past five years trying to get the forest personnel to “keep the environment healthy and our forests green.”
II. Foresters do not have expertise to analyze and permit mine operations
Foresters know nothing about mining and its destruction; therefore, foresters should not be responsible for permitting mining operations on our “forest reserves.” I know about mining and its pollution of air and water because I have spent years of my life getting clean water for my community from the local copper mine, then Rosemont came along. Even with this hands-on training, I could not possibly know enough to qualify to analyze a mining operation. Whereas, here in Arizona on one proposed mine, a forester from the Inyo National Forest , which is full of trees and water, where he had experience with roadless wilderness, is making a decision about a mining operation. And he is not the only staff person who knows nothing about mining. It's excruciatingly painful to hear the Coronado FS staff parroting the words of the mining company with no mining background or technical expertise to even know what the company spokespersons are talking about, much less question their suppositions and assumptions.
One blaring example is in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)—a tome of some 1,000 pages—for Rosemont mine in Tucson, AZ. In the two chapters that summarized and outlined the “environmental impacts” of the mining operation, the most common word is “may,” certainly not a technical, scientific term. In the Executive Summary, “may” is used 67 times and “could” is used 11 times. In Chapter 1, “may” is used 60 times and “could” 5 times. Not knowing enough to ask for crucial analysis, the FS signed off on the document and released it for public comment. And the public has commented—some 25,000 comments.
Articles from local newspapers:
Further, I, Nancy Freeman, had given extensive comments during the scoping period (oral, written and webpage submittals) on Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM). I queried the FS staff geologist as to why TENORM had not been assessed, or even mentioned, in the DEIS, as we were told every issue brought up in scoping would be addressed individually in the DEIS. The geologist answered, “Oh, they checked for any radioactivity out there, but they didn't find much.” I explained to her again (as she was present at the hearing when I spoke) that TENORM is enhanced radioactivity created when uranium is milled along with copper ore, mixed with chemicals and thrown out to the landscape in the mining slurry to interact with soil, water and air to breakdown to its more toxic “daughters” of Gross Alpha, Radon, etc. The danger is so prevalent here in Arizona that when EPA did their landmark study on TENORM in 1999, they used Arizona copper mines for their data.
One example of why there cannot be the same rules for every forest; each area has its unique problems. However, the danger of TENORM is prevalent throughout the western U.S. , including Washington State. In this case, there was uranium mining, which creates multiple problems.
There are many other adminstrative issues in permitting the Rosemont Copper mine in the Coronado National Forest that give a model of the problems faced by the Forest Service personnel, so that they start breaking their own rules. Administrative problems in permitting Rosemont Mine The situation has become so charged with illogic that thr Arizona Game and Fish were told to get lost by the creators of the DEIS. AZ Game and Fish letter to Forest Service
The Agency had made extensive comments on the Rosemont DEIS regarding specis and habitat—45 pages. They estimate that over $1,000,000 in revenues will be lost over the 25 years—but it's really more than that—it's forever. As I always say, "Grass seeds do not replace oak trees." AZ Game and Fish comments
Toxic waste, chemical solutions and hazardous waste spills
Mining is toxic endeavor. EPA keeps an inventory of the toxic releases of mining. Six to seven of the top ten "releasers" in Arizona are consistantly mining operations. Data for Arizona 2008-2010
The Report shows that 100 percent of mines predicted compliance with water quality standards before operations began; however, 76 percent of mines studied in detail exceeded water quality standards due to mining activity.
For entire report: Comparison of Predicted and Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mines
Various toxic chemicals are used with mining operations, particularly to separate the copper, less than 1% from the rest of the components of the crushed bedrock, which could be uranium, selenium, chromium, lead or other toxic heavy metals.
Flotation procssing chemicals:
1) Filtration is not a treatment technology for volatile organics. Treatment is pushing air the solution which releases the volatile chemicals into the air [Bless the employees who endure this process—it would definitely fall under OSHA regulations].
2) Some are amine compounds that break down into nitrates, so the presence of nitrates in the groundwater is an indicator of travel of these compounds, which can be very mobile in an oxygen solution (H 2O).
After the copper, gold or other desireable metals are leached out with an acid solution, they call the remaining brew of heavy metals "barren" leach solution. Check out the characteristics of "barren" Leach Solution Understanding the composition of this "spent" or "barren" solution when analyzing the Hazardous Waste Incidents.
Hazardous Waste Incidents
Since 1990, t he National Response Center has taken over the responsibility of keeping the data for hazardous waste "incidents" throughout the U.S. Their records show that in Arizona there have been 328 "incidents" by the major 5 mines.
Records of Hazardous Waste Spills by Arizona mines only--
Records for ASARCO 1990 - 2012
Records for BHP 1990 - 2012
Records for Cyprus 1990 - 1999 (sold to PD in 1999)
Records for Phelps Dodge (PD) 1990 - 2008 (Sold to FM in 2008)
6 incidents occured on railroad:
The NRC Website: Link NRC Data Base Query Form*
Stormwater carries the chemicals to nearby regions. Arizona and other states have regulations to control pollution by stormwater, even running off construction sites.
Local history of environmental impact of sulfuric acid spills
The public water company in Green Valley, AZ water quality records had periodic unexplained spikes in the sulfate and TDS readings. When I found out about the sulfuric acid spills, I was able to correlate the date of the spills two miles away (but uphill) with the spikes in the water company data. It consistantly took 36 months for the acid to reach the public supply wells. Take not that sulfate and TDS are not regulated, although it sure made a difference in our drinking water. We all had installed R/O water filtering systems—except the local nursing home and low-income retirement home for the elderly.
History of impact of Sulfuric Acid Spills on public wells in Green Valley
Who can explain the logic? All over the world, there are extensive projects to plant trees for watershed, clean water, and climate control, while in the arid Southwest a government agency that claims to protect the forest and watershed is proposing to permit projects that will destroy thousands of mature trees, including a majority of old growth trees, since these areas were not used for the logging industry. We have several examples in Arizona including Oak Flat, the Santa Ritas, and the north Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The proposed Rosemont mine will bury some 24,000 mature trees under 100 ft. of waste rock and mining slurry, including oaks, walnuts and desert willows. Another 9,000 will disappear with the digging of a mile wide pit on "patented"FS land because the FS is in the processing of permitting the dumping of waste rock and slurry piles on our Forest Service land. The proposed Wildcat Silver mine will also bury hundreds of these same species, plus hundreds of incredible specimens of Arizona sycamores.
At the proposed Oak Flat operation, even though the region was protected by two Republican U. S. presidents (Eisenhower and Nixon) the oak forest will be at the bottom of a crater that mining company estimates will be the size of the meteor crater (one mile across and more than 550 feet deep). The centuries-old trees cannot possibly survive the upheaval. No one has bothered to analyze what will happen when the crater fills with rainwater over time and what will happen to the canyons and washes that used to get replenished by the water which would be captured in a crater.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon has been maintained as a wilderness area for over one hundred years, thanks to the foresight of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. When visiting that area, I have seen more animals in the forest than anywhere else in the Southwest, yet mining corporations want to destroy it forever, for a profit today. Who can explain the logic? Fortunately, most of it has been saved from mining by the Department of Interior. But is the Forest reserve land still vulnerable?
The dewatering of the ever-deepening pit constitutes a continual drawdown on the water table, acting as a sump, or vortex. When mining ends, the pit fills with rainwater, which leaches metals of the pit walls, thereby increasing the toxicity over the years. This toxic water seeps down into the underground channels that were dried by dewatering, spreading heavy metal pollution throughout the region.
And the pit becomes a toxic lake. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified 18 existing pit lakes in Nevada. Water quality data was obtained for 12 of the existing lakes. All pit lakes for which water quality data was obtained contained at least one trace element at concentrations that are potentially toxic to aquatic life or wildlife. For the full report, Assessment of Wildlife Hazards Associated with Mine Pit Lakes
Pit lakes, sulfuric acid leaching ponds and tailing impoundments have all been held responsible for bird kill… particularly migratory birds.
There are three major sources of air pollution:
fumes from smelters, dust from tailings, dust from milling operations
Report to the Coronado National Forest on dust issues related to mining with photos
EPA's list of possible avenues of offending particles produced by metal mining
Any mining reclamation plan must emphasize giving clean water to the surrounding communities and this case, the forests—no matter the cost to the mining company
The bond must assure clean water after closeout. A major cost will be the continual cleaning of groundwater and stormwater after operations. There will be water problems. There must be adequate liners on all the tailings and leaching facilities. The bedrock of any mining area is full of cracks and fissures that enable flow of chemicals and pollutants. The bedrock may be calcium/magesium, which is said to be a buffer for the acid, but to be a buffer the acid must dissolve the metals, thus freeing the whole mess to flow to groundwater.
As we know in the Summitville case in Colorado, the company only had a $3 million dollar bond, so when the pollution from heavy metals got too great because of a damanged liner in the leach system, the company walked away with a bankruptcy.
The Bagdad mine in Arizona received EPA violation from the results of putting a tailing impoundment over a wash. Further, Bagdad mine had a plethora of sulfuric acid spills because it was trucked in over hilly terrain. How will this impact on groundwater in a suburban area be addressed? In an urban, suburban area, we cannot wait until the pollution has occurred to start a mitagation project.
The Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2), a Bozeman, Montanta non-profit that provides data and technical support for grassroots environmental groups, produces a newletter with down-to-earth, understanable facts and figures about the effects of mining. In their most recent newsletter they analyzed the issues with reclamation bonds:
Funding Reclamation & LTMM [Long term monitoring and maintenance]
Example of reclamation issue at Zortman Mine in northern Montana with photos
Will a “Bond” Cover an Environmental Accident?
There is some confusion as to what a reclamation bond (financial surety) will cover.
A bond (financial surety) for a mine can only be used for “reasonably foreseeable circumstances.” The bond provides money for dirt work to close the mine, for water treatment costs, and for long term monitoring and maintenance.
A financial surety cannot be used to cover the costs of environmental accidents related to the mine, such as those caused by heavy rain or earthquakes, and it cannot be used to compensate neighbors of the mine whose property or businesses may be damaged financially by the mine.
If a tailings dam fails, if fish are killed, if dust impacts farms, none of these are covered by the financial surety. In fact, there is usually no financial mechanism at a mine to pay for these impacts, other than litigation against the mine operator (if they still exist).
So, the short answer to the question “Will a mine bond cover the costs of an environmental accident” is NO. This is a commonly misunderstood, but clearly an important point, about regulatory guarantees.
There could be a simple, systematic, solution to this problem – like a general reclamation fund that all mines contribute to, and is available in these unforeseen, emergency situations – but there is no such fund available anywhere today, or any proposal for other solutions. This same generic approach to a fund for “unforeseen” emergencies could also be used to pay for environmental accidents at mines, but this would require a much bigger fund. Asking for the mining industry to pay for this fund would be very controversial, and the mining industry would fight any such proposal.
From ‘The Logbook,' the newsletter of the Center for Science in Public Participation, Spring 2012, and reprinted with the permission of CSP2.
I maintain a complete website on the problems with water depletion in Arizona (www.g-a-l.info), but I will spare you those ponderous details. However, as the Executive Director of Groundwater Awareness League in Arizona, I conducted a compaign to protect water in public lands. I think that information is relevant to the current situation.
I have been working on protecting water in public lands for some time. In addition to mining, the forests in the West are in danger due to land swaps that put developments that are heavy water users, such as resorts and golf courses, on the edge of the forests; thereby, depleting the water table in the region. A glaring example is again here in Arizona. Along the Oak Creek road out of Sedona, north to Flagstaff , the number of dead trees, even near the creek is a disheartening testimony to the lack of sensible management of water resources for our forests reserves.
In February, 2007, I gave a report on protecting water in public lands at a public hearing on hardrock mining and mining in the Santa Ritas, held in Pima County by U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva. Protecting water in Public Lands
In March, 2007, I submitted a report to U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords regarding the subject when she sponsored a local Water Forum. We need to protect water levels in public lands: National Parks, National Forests, Wildlife Refuges and BLM Conservation Areas
The water use of the mining companies is often a contentious issue:
Augusta Resource claims rights to surface water meant for plants and wildlife in a national forest region!!
List of existing wells Augusta Resouce has claimed for groundwater in the region.
In conclusion, I shouldn't have to remind you, but I feel I must, of the 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA) passed to counter damage to natural ecosystems on public forest reserves.
This Act requires the Secretary of Agriculture to evaluate forest lands, develop a management program based on multiple-use, sustained-yield principles, and implement a resource management plan for each unit of the National Forest System. The act is the primary regulation governing the administration of national forests.
[Note: The Act does specify timber, but why shouldn't the guidelines apply to hardrock, pit mining, also.]
If you could come to Arizona (or Colorado, or New Mexico) and see for yourselves the awesome devastation of mining, you would insist a new Forest Rule would eliminate hardrock pit mining from our forests forever. It's the only logical action to take if we are going to have clean water, air and soils for the future.
"The conditions of the forests and the wasteful manner in which their destruction is taking place give cause for serious apprehension." — U.S. President Chester A. Arthur in 1882.