US judge tosses BLM approvals for Bayer’s phosphate mine in Idaho

Mark Milam


HOUSTON (ICIS)–A US federal judge has vacated a set of approvals issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) authorising the development of Bayer’s phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho.

While environmental groups are welcoming the decision, the company believes the judgement was in error and said it could possibly appeal.

Phosphate supply from the Caldwell Canyon mine is used as part of the manufacturing of glyphosate, most commonly known as the active ingredient in the Roundup brand of herbicide, which has caused concern from environmental groups, who have taken legal action previously against the project.

In a decision on 2 June by US District Court in Idaho, it was ruled that any economic burdens caused by vacating the mine approvals were outweighed by the need to ensure the ruling did not incentivise parties to invest heavily in possibly illegal projects only to use the economic consequences as an excuse.

The court wiped away the approvals for the new open-pit phosphate mine, the phosphate use permit and the rights-of-ways for a road, water pipeline, fibre optic line and powerline.

It also vacated the agency’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The decision follows the court’s ruling back in January that the BLM had violated that act and Federal Land Policy Management Act when it approved the phosphate mine without first analysing, restricting, mitigating or eliminating impacts to greater sage grouse, such as harms to habitat and population connectivity.

“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, Center for Biological Diversity attorney.

“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.”

For their part, Bayer has a different viewpoint on the court’s decision but said it will not have any impact to current supplies of product.

“We respectfully disagree with the ruling against the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and we are assessing our next steps, which could include pursuing an appeal,” said a Bayer spokesperson.

“This litigation and ruling are specific to a future supply source, the Caldwell Canyon Mine, which we plan to have operational in the next few years.”

Further commenting on the ruling, Bayer said “we believe the court’s decision to vacate the BLM’s approvals is excessive. Experts at the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a multiyear science-based assessment before issuing the mine permit.”

“We believe the few specific deficiencies the court identified in the BLM’s assessment can and should be fully addressed expeditiously.”

Bayer said it is their position that the Caldwell Canyon mine has the potential to be the most innovative and environmentally protective mine in the US and that the nearby Soda Springs, Idaho, community, local conservation groups and other key stakeholders have supported the development and contributed to the planning process.


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