Comments on reliability of SWCA as a consultant on Metal Mining

Submitted by Nancy Freeman
188 W. Calle del Ano
Green Valley, AZ 85614
January 31, 2012

The NEPA consultant/contractor—SWCA—chosen for the Rosemont Project has shown itself to be totally unprepared and inadequate to evaluate metal mining projects. All cooperating agencies and concerned owners of the public lands have had to produce reams of corrections, additions and omissions. In Chapter 1, page 1, of the DEIS, it is stated

Land managers for the Coronado National Forest (the Coronado), an administrative unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (Forest Service), prepared this draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) in response to a preliminary mine plan of operations (MPO) submitted by Augusta Resource Corporation (Augusta Resource), the parent company of Rosemont Copper Company (Rosemont Copper), for development of the Rosemont ore deposit.

However, it was a consulting firm that prepared the DEIS on behalf of Augusta Resource/Rosemont Copper. Certainly, it was not accomplished by an objective entity, or (as will be shown below) a scientific one. Why wasn't this fact appropriately stated by the preparers in the DEIS?

Further, an important cooperating agency, Arizona Game and Fish was hampered from obtaining technical reports in a timely manner. Following is one example, an excerpt from the AZ Game and Fish Department's comments to Mr. Upchurch in a letter (page 4), dated January 18, 2012: AZ Game and Fish Comment Letter to Coronado National Forest

On November 23, 2010, the Department wrote a letter CNF, repeating the Department's concern over the continued unavailability of technical reports, the lack of access to reports containing sensitive species information, the sheer volume of reports and the limited review times afforded to review them. In the letter, the Department requested more review time for the PDEIS in accordance with the MOU between the Forest Service and the Commission that required CNF to negotiate a reasonable amount of time for Department's review of the internal DEIS. The Department pointed out that its comments on the PDEIS would be hampered by its ability to access and analyze relevant biological, hydrological and other reports.

On the same day November 23, 2010, the Department sent an email to CNF's biologist asking for two wildlife reports generated by Rosemont. The email reply, dated November 30, 2010, was as follows: “Sorry to not get back to you sooner. At this time noe of the biology documents are to be released externally [ i.e. to the Department] without permission from Reta Laford [Acting CNF Forest Supervisor]…”

The Department's November 23, 2010, letter was made available to Rosemont, which gave it to its counsel for review. Rosemont's lawyer's December 6, 2010, response, submitted to the CNF Forest Supervisor on December 9, 2010, suggested that the Department's expertise was “redundant” that the Department “may lack sufficiently knowlegeable or NEPA-experienced manpower and funding to fulfill its obligations under NEPA” and should withdraw as a cooperating agency, “rather than attempting to cause additional delays.”

Another compelling issue to illustrate that the document was written by a consultant and prepared for the sake of the mining company, not the public interest, was the illegal manner in which the consultant put in a change of the Forest Plan in the DEIS, without any public notice at the time of the release of the DEIS. In fact, in Chapter One, which gives the only Table of Contents, an Amendment to the Forest Plan is not mentioned under the Chapter 2 description:

Chapter 2. Alternatives, Including the Proposed Action: Chapter 2 describes the proposed action, along with the alternatives considered in detail. Action alternatives were developed based on significant issues raised by the public, the Coronado resource specialists, and other agencies. The no action alternative is included in the range of alternatives considered in detail. Chapter 2 also provides a comparison summary based on each alternative's environmental consequences, which are presented in chapter 3. This chapter identifies the Coronado and Bureau of Land Management's preferred alternative, as well as alternatives considered but eliminated from detailed study. (Chap. 1, page 3)

However, it is pointed out in the Executive Summary that the Forest Plan must be amended and can be done so with the stroke of a pen. In spite of the fact, a public Forest Plan revision procedure has been going on for 5 years and the need for a revision of the Forest Plan to accommodate mining in the Rosemont region has never been brought up by the Coronado Forest Service personnel in those meetings. The plan to amend is first presented toward the end of the Executive Summary.

Forest Plan Amendment

The Coronado proposes to amend its forest plan in order to allow activities integral to the proposed project. The proposed forest plan amendment consists of a new management area that specifically addresses copper mining. A detailed description is contained in chapter 2 of the DEIS. The proposed new management area, Management Area 16 – Rosemont Mining Area, includes standards and guidelines specifically developed to allow copper mining to comply with the amended forest plan. The proposed forest plan amendment applies to the proposed action and all action alternatives. All mining and associated ground-disturbing activities associated with the Rosemont Copper Project are located within the boundaries of proposed Management Area 16, with the possible exception of some access road construction and the movement of employees, materials, and mine products. (Executive Summary, page xix)

Another strike against the consultant is the fact that they ignored viable, important comments made during scoping. For example, extensive comments were made on TENORM (Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radio-Active Material), which is a serious consideration in Arizona. For this reason, when EPA did their environmental study of TENORM, they used Arizona mines as the models. We can assume that this important subject was too technical for the consultants to deal with.

Their lack of technical skills and expertise is illustrated again and again in the DEIS. In the two chapters that summarized the impacts the most common word was “may,” certainly not a technical, scientific term. In the Executive Summary, “may” was used 67 times and “could” was used 11 times. In Chapter 1, “may” was used 60 times and “could” 5 times.

This type of analysis is totally unacceptable for an Environmental Impact Statement; the information must be clear, precise and give exact facts and figures. Metal mining is not that common in the National Forests; therefore, the local overseeing Foresters have no idea about mining, so they are inept in asking and requiring relevant data, so they are totally dependent on the expertise of outsiders. The failure to provide requested documents to AZ Game and Fish Department was the consultant, not the Forest Service.

For these reasons and others that have been documented by informal, unprofessional inter-personal e-mails between the consultant and mining company and the Forest Service personnel, I recommend that this consultant be removed from the list of qualified NEPA consultants for metal mining analysis.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Nancy Freeman

cc: EPA