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Federal Appeals Court Halts Controversial Mine Expansion in Idaho

Mine expansion would increase pollution, harm hunting, fishing, and ranching
April 13, 2009

A view near Smoky Canyon, Idaho
Seattle, WA — 
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay halting expansion of the Smoky Canyon phosphate mine into a roadless area of the Caribou National Forest in southeast Idaho. The court's ruling, issued late last Friday, April 10, 2009, prevents further mine construction activities that have already marred formerly undeveloped lands with a new road built to access the mine site. The court's order prevents further work on the mine expansion in the Sage Creek roadless area, including logging and topsoil removal, pending an Idaho court's determination whether a longer term injunction should issue.

"This decision stops the destruction of irreplaceable roadless lands for the time being, and gives us a fighting chance to save this area from development," said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represents conservation groups in the case.

The Smoky Canyon mine is already listed as a federal Superfund site due to toxic pollution of area waters from past mining activity. The mine expansion would enlarge the footprint of the mine into more than 1,100 acres of pristine roadless forests that are used by hunters, anglers, and hikers. The area is also a key stronghold for rare Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

"Instead of moving forward with new mining, the government should be making new efforts to ensure that the mess left by the old mining is cleaned up," said Marv Hoyt, Idaho representative of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "The new mining would have caused much more selenium pollution and compound southeast Idaho's selenium pollution problem."

Smoky Canyon is a large open-pit phosphate mine stretching for miles in the backcountry on the Idaho/Wyoming border. The mine requires digging up massive amounts of selenium-bearing rock to access the phosphate ore. Selenium is a mineral that can cause deformities and death to animals and is a known threat to humans.  Mining-related selenium pollution has killed trout, livestock and other wildlife since first being documented in southeast Idaho more than two decades ago.

Pete Riede, who owns land near the mine, said, "The court's decision is good news because mine expansion would increase pollution and harm hunting, fishing, ranching, and recreation. Many of our neighbors rely on clean water for their livelihood and way of life. We know these are good people who work at the mine. But mining jobs should not trump the work of others or the economic value of clean water. If Simplot would focus more on the necessary clean up work at Smoky Canyon, there could be new jobs created at the mine."

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife. The conservation groups are represented by the public-interest law firm Earthjustice. 

Read the order (PDF)


Contact:

Marv Hoyt, (208) 522-7927
Tim Preso, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699