Justice Opens 30-Day Public Comment Period on Proposed Settlement for Natural Resource Damages at Morenci Mine, Greenlee County, Arizona

Last edited 09/03/2020

Morenci Mine open pit copper mine
Hazardous substances -- including sulfuric acid and dissolved metals -- released from the Morenci Mine site, an open pit copper mine located in southeastern Arizona, shown here in 2010, have injured and continue to injure natural resources and natural resource services. Photo credit: TJBlackwell.

On April 30, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a 30-day public comment period on a proposed settlement with Freeport-McMoRan for natural resource damage claims arising from hazardous substances releases at the Morenci Mine, a copper mining site near Clifton, Greenlee County, in southeastern Arizona. The proposed settlement is embodied in a Consent Decree that was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on April 24.

The natural resource trustees in this case include the State of Arizona, represented by Arizona Trustee for Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Department of the Interior, represented by Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In its entirety, the Morenci Mine site includes a large complex of open pits, numerous leach rock stockpiles, development rock stockpiles, ore and solution beneficiation plants, tailings impoundments, uncovered ponds, five historic smelters, historic underground mine workings and surface openings. Surface flows from the site drain into the San Francisco River and Gila River watersheds. After evaluating potential impacts to natural resources, the trustees have determined that releases of hazardous substances from and at the mining site -- including sulfuric acid and dissolved metals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium and zinc -- have caused and continue to cause injuries to natural resources and natural resource services. These injured natural resources include surface water, sediments, soils, terrestrial habitats, terrestrial receptors and migratory birds.

Under the proposed settlement in the lodged Consent Decree, Freeport-McMoRan will:

  • Pay $6,701,861.30 to be used by the natural resource trustees to plan and implement projects designed to restore, replace and/or acquire the equivalent of wildlife and wildlife habitat inured by the hazardous substances releases; and,
  • Pay $98,138.70 for DOI’s past assessment costs not already paid.

The natural resource trustees, acting through a Trustee Council, intend to prepare one or more Restoration Plans describing specifically how these funds will be used. These future Restoration Plans will be made available for public review and comment.

Written comments regarding the lodged Consent Decree must be received by the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division by Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

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