Court Vacates Approval for Open Pit Mine in Idaho

A federal judge vacated approvals for a mine in Caldwell Canyon in southeastern Idaho. The Bureau of Land Management approved P4 Production LLC, a subsidiary of Bayer AG, extracting phosphate from an open pit mine for Glyphosate manufacturing. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. It is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and is the pesticide most used globally.

BLM Violates NEPA

The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho found that the federal agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) when it approved P4 without analyzing, restricting, or eliminating impacts to Greater Sage groups. The necessity to ensure the ruling did not “incentivize agencies and third parties to ‘invest heavily in potentially illegal projects upfront, only to claim later that the economic consequences in setting aside those projects would be [too great to ignore]” surpasses any economic hardships caused by the decision.

The ruling also found that the BLM violated the NEPA by not considering the environmental and public health effects of sending phosphate rock to the Soda Springs Plant for processing. Bayer AG also owns the plant, and in 1990 the site was listed as a Superfund site for selenium and cadmium contamination of groundwater. The June ruling responded to a 2021 challenge to the BLM decision to approve 1,559 acres of land important to the Greater Sage for phosphate mining.

Protecting Species

“This strip mine would’ve cut through the heart of crucial habitat for greater sage grouse and other species – all in service of producing a pesticide that is itself pushing our most endangered wildlife closer to extinction,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now sage grouse have a fighting chance at continuing to dance their age-old dances in this place. And the government can’t go on arbitrarily ignoring the environmental harms of phosphate mining.”

The Environmental Impacts of Phosphate Mining

Fertilizer production uses phosphate mining. Production of animal feed supplements, food preservatives, and industrial products, such as glyphosate, also uses phosphate. Southern Idaho has one of the largest phosphate ore sources in the U.S. Phosphate mining has occurred in the area since the early 20th century. Phosphate ore is mined by using open pits. Part of mining phosphate includes removing the material overlying the beds. They can contain potentially dangerous heavy metals. Heavy metals can pose health and environmental risks when released into the atmosphere.

Phosphate mining impacts water and air quality. It can affect groundwater supplies through industry water use. Industry wastewater discharges into waterways impact water quality. Air quality can lessen with dust throughout mining activities. Fluoride and radon gas emissions pose air quality problems. Selenium is one of the toxic metals sometimes released during phosphate mining. It is a naturally occurring element and an essential micronutrient for humans, plants, and wildlife. However, in high concentrations, it can be toxic. Researchers found toxic levels in water, sediment, vegetation, and wildlife tissues from phosphate mines in southeast Idaho.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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