A federal judge has drawn approval for a phosphate mining project in southeastern Idaho, saying federal land managers in the Trump administration failed to properly consider the mine’s impact on sagegrouse, a bird species whose population has since declined by 80% . 1965.
U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s decision on Friday came five months after he discovered a flaw in the way the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the Caldwell Canyon Mine in 2019.
The mine was proposed by P4 Production LLC, a subsidiary of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG. Three environmental groups – the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians – have filed a lawsuit.
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In January, Winmill agreed with conservation groups that the federal agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws on several counts when it approved the mine, including not considering the indirect effects of ore processing at a nearby plant and the cumulative effects on sage grouse, whose population has declined dramatically from its range in 11 western states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
His decision on Friday issued remedies for those violations: withdrawing both the mine’s approval and the project’s environmental review, as well as any other decision based on those documents.
A male sage grouse parades outside Baggs, Wyoming, in the early morning hours on April 22, 2015. Sage grouse is a species of bird whose population has declined by 80% since 1965. (Dan Cepeda/The Casper Star-Tribune via AP)
“We believe that the court’s decision to withdraw the BLM’s approvals is excessive,” Bayer AG said in a statement. The company is considering next steps, which may include an appeal.
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“We believe that the few specific deficiencies identified by the court in the assessment of the BLM can and should be addressed swiftly,” the statement said. Bayer said it plans to have the mine operational in the coming years.
An email sent to the US Bureau of Land Management seeking comment was not immediately answered.
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The proposed venture would include two new open pit mines to extract phosphate rock, according to court documents. It would have resulted in the disruption of about 1,550 acres of previously undeveloped land nearly 300 miles southeast of Boise.
The mine would last 40 years, with the ore transported by truck or train to a nearby processing plant.
There, the ore would be processed into glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Bayer, which acquired the herbicide’s original producer Monsanto in 2018, is facing thousands of claims from people who say exposure to Roundup caused their cancer.
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“This strip mine would have cut through the heart of critical habitat for grouse and other species,” just to produce an herbicide, Hannah Connor, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
“Now sage grouses have a good chance of continuing to dance their age-old dances in this place. And the government cannot continue to arbitrarily ignore the environmental damage of phosphate mining,” Connor said.
Bayer this year began removing glyphosate from its U.S. residential lawn and garden products and using other ingredients to reduce future lawsuits. Agriculture and professional products will not be changed, and the company said it stands behind the safety of its glyphosate products.