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Environmental group pushes back against newly approved drilling sites for proposed copper mine

An environmental group claims the Bureau of Land Management's  approval of a set of drilling sites for a proposed copper mine near Tucson goes against federal policy. 

Canadian company Faraday Copper proposes a 32-year, multi-pit copper mine on a stretch of federal, state and private land in the Galiero mountains northeast of Tucson.

The BLM approved 11 sites for exploratory drilling pads for the project this month. Russ McSpadden, southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, says that goes against the agency’s own policies.

"They violated their own statutory mandates and regulations, they violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and they failed at their duty to consult with tribes," he said. 

In a letter to agency leaders in Arizona, the Center for Biological Diversity says the approval is unlawful because it happened while another, more complete environmental impact assessment is still underway. That assessment is being carried out to see if the project is in compliance with National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which is a process federal agencies must undertake to examine the environmental impact of projects proposed on public land. The center says some of the newly-approved drill pad sites are the same ones part of the unfinished NEPA assessment, and can’t yet be green-lit under federal law.

McSpadden says the NEPA assessment was due out last year, but has still not been released. 

"And so we’ve been waiting for that, the impacted communities have been waiting for a draft EA that the BLM told us would be out last November," he said. 

He says the center could file suit to stop the drilling if the BLM does not respond. 

A BLM spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.