Environmental Orgs. Challenge Approval of Mining Project

On Sept. 11, five environmental organizations filed a civil complaint in the District of New Mexico against the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and several of its regional officials claiming that the defendants improperly reviewed and authorized a New Mexico magnesium metal mining project. The lawsuit accused the BLM of disregarding its statutory duties under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The plaintiffs, Friends of the Floridas, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Gila Resources Information Project, and Amigos Bravos, are non-profit environmental and conservation organizations. Their members live and recreate close to the mining site, which is located near Deming, New Mexico and adjacent to the Florida Mountains.

The complaint stated that the mountain range has special BLM designations “to protect the significant scenic values, wildlife resources, biological systems including sensitive plant communities, and unique natural features of these lands.” According to the filing, the BLM is a federal agency responsible for public land management and protection.

The plaintiffs explained that American Magnesium, LLC proposed the project, allegedly seeking to “construct a new road across public land, conduct extensive exploration drilling, blast and excavate a large open pit, as well as develop additional infrastructure on public land.” Reportedly, the project will last 20 years and it will involve 92 truck trips per day from the project site through residential areas and Deming to reach a processing mill.

In issuing a Decision Record (DR) approving the project, the BLM relied on a district-issued Environmental Assessment (EA) and the BLM’s “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) issued on July 31. The plaintiffs argued that “(i)n reviewing and approving the Project, BLM violated NEPA by failing to take the required ‘hard look’ at: (1) the Project’s direct, indirect and cumulative impacts; (2) the baseline conditions of the areas that may be affected by the Project; (3) mitigation measures that would reduce Project impacts; and (4) reasonable alternatives to the Project.”

Furthermore, the environmental groups claimed that the project basis is fundamentally flawed because the BLM admits that neither it nor American Magnesium are privy to the extent of ore to be mined. Therefore, the plaintiffs claimed that the 20-year mining operation was prematurely approved, before requisite exploration occurred, in violation of BLM mining regulations and policy mandates. They concluded that “(i)n essence, BLM approved a full-scale mine with nowhere to go.”

The environmental organizations charged the defendants with one FLPMA and four NEPA violations for their allegedly unlawful acts and omissions. The plaintiffs requested declaratory relief and ask the court, “(p)ursuant to the APA, set aside and vacate the DR, EA, FONSI and Project approvals.” Further, the plaintiffs also requested an injunction prohibiting the BLM from commencing any project operations pending federal law compliance.

The plaintiffs are represented by WildEarth Guardians, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Western Mining Action Project.