Feds Sued Over Hasty Approval of Bayer Phosphate Mining Project

The proposed mining operation approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sits in Idaho’s “Phosphate Patch” known for its many mining operations.

A greater sage grouse. (Photo by Bob Wick / BLM)

(CN) — The Biden administration faces a lawsuit over its predecessor’s hasty approval of a mining operation in rural Idaho without considering the environmental impact of extracting the raw materials for the herbicide Roundup.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the project in August 2019, clearing the the way for P4 Production to mine over 1,500 acres of undeveloped land for German pharmaceutical company Bayer. The proposed Caldwell Canyon Mine is in prime territory for sage-grouse bird and other species, according to the complaint filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians in U.S. District Court of Idaho.

BLM did not consider runoff from the site, dust particles and other contaminants when officials signed off on the project, the plaintiffs say. For the next 40 years, the Caldwell Canyon Mine will extract the raw material to make glyphosate, which is primarily used in Bayer’s Roundup.

“The World Health Organization’s cancer-research arm considers glyphosate a probable carcinogen, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently determined that glyphosate is likely to adversely affect 93% of all threatened and endangered species,” the groups say in their 34-page complaint.

This year, Bayer agreed to a $2 billion settlement to resolve future claims that its popular weed killer Roundup causes cancer.

The environmental impacts are not the only issues that worry the plaintiffs. P4 will mine for phosphate, install power lines, construct a road to haul materials, dig ponds and extend rail lines in the area. Materials will be processed at the Soda Springs Plant — a federally recognized Superfund site, according to the complaint.

“In September of 2018, EPA found that groundwater contamination at the Soda Springs Plant is contributing to surface water contamination in several streams and creeks that exceed Idaho water quality standards,” the groups say in their lawsuit, which seeks to void BLM’s approval of the mining operation.

Noise will also be a major factor that will hurt the sage-grouse population, but BLM didn’t consider that in its analysis of the project’s environmental impact. Instead, the agency found the project would have some long-term and moderate effect on the sage-grouse habitat but didn’t detail why it was negligible according to the complaint.

The proposed mining operation is not the first in the region. Southeast Idaho is the state’s “Phosphate Patch” and other mining operations have contaminated groundwater and hurt wildlife, but BLM did not take any of that into consideration according to the plaintiffs.

“Southeast Idaho has been burdened by the legacy of phosphate mines, with more than ten federal hazardous waste, or Superfund, sites in the region,” Chris Krupp, public lands advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. “The Caldwell Canyon Mine will generate additional selenium pollution, when selenium concentrations in the Blackfoot River already exceed Idaho water-quality standards. More selenium in fragile ecosystems is the last thing the region needs.”

The groups claim BLM’s approval violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with its cursory reviews of the proposed mining operation and other alternatives.

“This decision was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion, because it was based on a flawed legal premise,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint.

A BLM spokesperson declined to comment.

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