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Battle Over Peace River Phosphate

The phosphate mines in Florida are so damaging that their ugly scars on the planet can be clearly seen from space. Florida's public rivers, lakes, streams, and coastal waters pay the price for these corporate strip mines, year after year.

Attorney Monica Reimer in Earthjustice's Florida office has filed an important lawsuit that challenges federal approval for one of these mines near the beautiful Peace River outside Bradenton.

Without even holding a public hearing, the federal government gave Mosaic Phosphate the go-ahead to mine 2,367 acres within the Peace River watershed. The company's permit allows them to trash 480 acres of high-quality wetlands. This is gorgeous Florida country, and the wetlands are critical for recharging water supplies in what's becoming an increasingly developed—and thirsty—part of the state.

Earthjustice filed our suit on behalf of the Sierra Club, ManaSota-88, People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) and the Gulf Restoration Network.

Our lawsuit points out that the US Army Corps of Engineers violated the Clean Water Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to hold the public hearing on—or critically reviewing—Mosaic Phosphate's revised permit application.

We are seeking an injunction to halt the mining permit until a full Environmental Impact Statement review takes place. And the environmental review has to consider the cumulative impact of large-scale mining in the Peace River basin. For the health of the ecosystem, Reimer argues, we can't keep looking at these mines in piecemeal fashion. This isn't the only place Mosaic wants to mine—the company is seeking permits to mine 34,551 more acres within that same watershed.

It is hard to imagine that Southwest Florida's environment can take much more: Since the 1800's, strip-mining has devastated well over 200,000 acres in the Peace River watershed, which includes the destruction of over 35,000 acres of wetlands and 101 miles of streams.

A Freedom of Information Request turned up some interesting documents. They show that officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are concerned about the cumulative impact of mining in Southwest Florida, too. At the same time that the EPA was evaluating Mosaic's application to destroy the 480 acres of wetlands, the agency refused to approve the company’s application for a different mine in the Peace River watershed. Why? The EPA said the company has to evaluate "the entire Peace River watershed and include an analysis of the overall mining activities that are currently underway and/or planned for this watershed."

We agree.

Federal officials also wrote that "EPA considers the Peace River, its tributaries, and watershed to be vital to aquatic resources of national importance," and stated that "re-created wetland and tributary systems are rarely able to replace the full range of functions and values of the impacted aquatic resources."

Again, we agree.

Our lawsuit contends that the Corps "arbitrarily and capriciously" failed to critically review Mosaic's spurious claim that a man-made landscape, re-created after strip mining, functions as well as, or better than, a natural landscape.

We will keep you posted on the future of this land, and the threatened and rare species which use it, including the Florida Scrub Jay, gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, Florida sandhill crane, Florida mouse, and Southeastern American kestrel.

Tags:  Water