Judge Halts Nevada Mine In Latest Use Of Novel Legal Argument

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A judge ruled in favor of environmentalists to halt a mine in Nevada, adopting a stricter interpretation of mining laws first implemented by a federal appeals court last year, the Associated Press (AP) reported Wednesday.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found last year that the U.S. Forest Service had improperly granted Rosemont Copper Company access to forest land for dumping waste, since there was no evidence the land contained valuable minerals, and thus had been improperly granted to Rosemont for the purposes of establishing a mine, Reuters reported. Following this reasoning, Judge Larry Hicks of the U.S. District Court of Nevada cited the Rosemont decision to back a planned molybdenum mine by Eureka Moly LLC, requiring the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the AP reported.

“The Court finds no meaningful difference between the Forest Agency’s argument in Rosemont and BLM’s argument here,” Hicks wrote in his March 31 opinion. “BLM cannot skirt the Mining Law requirement that valuable mineral deposits must be found in order to occupy the land,” he continued later.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision in 2022 upended long-standing precedent surrounding the 1872 Mining Law, which granted mining companies permission to use lands surrounding proposed mines for waste, even if those lands did not contain the minerals that formed the basis of their claim to the mine, according to AP.

The Rosemont decision also featured prominently in fellow Nevada District Judge Miranda Du’s decision to approve Lithium America’s Thacker Pass mine, AP reported. Du also required that the BLM review Lithium America’s right to dump waste at the site, but stopped short of blocking the project, allowing construction to begin this summer. (RELATED: Federal Judge Upholds Approval Of US Lithium Mine Operated By China-Linked Firm)

Environmentalists are hopeful the ruling against Eureka Moly will have significant impact going forward, alongside the Thacker Pass and Rosemont decisions, AP reported.

“All three rulings now say you can’t bury waste there unless you find valuable minerals,” Roger Flynn, an attorney who represented the Great Basin Resource Watch in its lawsuits against both the Thacker Pass and Eureka Moly projects, told AP. “The Rosemont issue would apply to basically every big mine in the West.”

John Hadder, director of the Great Basin Resource Watch, was hopeful the Moly decision would help environmentalists appeal and block work on Thacker Pass, and questioned why the Thacker Pass project could begin work under the Rosemont precedent, according to AP.

“Both judges are saying there’s illegal actions here,” Hadder told AP. “It violates the law, but there’s no repercussions. They can still go forward with the illegal action. It doesn’t make sense.”

Mark Compton, executive director of the American Exploration & Mining Association, argued the three cases were “unique,” and that they were unlikely to have a broad impact.

“I don’t believe a straight line comparison can be made between the court decisions on Mt. Hope, Thacker Pass, and Rosemont,” Compton told AP. “The facts are unique to each case.”

Eureka Moly could not be reached for comment.

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