GSCA files suit against BLM over limestone quarry mining violations

The Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver charging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management with failing to properly regulate mining activity at the Rocky Mountain Industrials’ limestone quarry.

The lawsuit contends that since 2016, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has allowed Rocky Mountain Industrials (RMI) to mine and sell certain types of limestone that are not allowed under the company’s federal mining permit.

“When it comes to Rocky Mountain Industrials, BLM is ignoring the federal laws that govern mining on public lands,” said Jeff Peterson, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance. “BLM is allowing RMI to mine limestone for road base, rip-rap and similar uses without the required permit and without a sales contract.”

The lawsuit asks the federal court to declare that BLM’s actions violate federal law and to prohibit BLM from allowing any further mining at the quarry until the agency comes into full compliance with federal law.

The Citizens’ Alliance first raised these issues in a formal letter to BLM in October 2018. The letter asked BLM to investigate suspected permit violations and, if violations were found, to begin enforcement actions or suspend non-compliant mining operations.

“We have waited for nearly a year and a half for BLM to enforce its own mining regulations,” said Peterson. “Meanwhile, RMI continues to profit from mining on public lands.” Hearing nothing from BLM, the Citizens’ Alliance submitted another letter to BLM in February 2020, further detailing BLM’s failure to comply with the law. BLM issued a short response, reiterating its decision to allow RMI’s current operations to continue unabated.

The Citizens’ Alliance suit is focused on BLM regulation of RMI’s past and current mining operations. It does not address RMI’s controversial proposal for a massive expansion of the limestone quarry.

Attorneys Roger Flynn and Jeffrey C. Parsons with the Western Mining Action Project of Lyons, a non-profit public interest law firm specializing in mining issues in the West, filed the suit on behalf of the Citizens’ Alliance. The firm is working on a pro bono basis.

Details of the suit focus on the difference between two types of limestone being mined at the quarry, and on federal laws that govern extraction of limestone from public lands.

One type is high-quality chemical-grade limestone, used for very specific purposes such as to suppress explosive gas in coal mines. That type is considered a “valuable mineral deposit,” and is governed by the 1872 Mining Law.

The other type is “common variety” limestone, typically used for road base, rip-rap, embankments and construction fill. “Common variety” limestone mining is governed by the 1947 Materials Act and the 1955 Common Varieties Act.

Companies seeking to mine “common variety” limestone must obtain a separate federal permit, and must secure a Mineral Materials Sales Contract to pay BLM fair market value for the rock.

Under these laws, BLM can authorize a “common variety” permit only if the mining operation is not “detrimental to the public interest,” fully protects public lands resources and the environment, and minimizes damages to public health and safety.

In 1982, BLM issued a “valuable mineral” permit to Mid-Continent Resources to quarry chemical-grade limestone at the site for its coal mines near Redstone. That permit carried over to the next owner, Cal-X, in 2009, and to Rocky Mountain Industrials in 2016.

None of the mining companies sought “common variety” permits or sales contracts, which would have been required under federal law to mine and sell “common variety” limestone.

In its lawsuit, the Citizens’ Alliance contends that RMI has been mining and selling both types of limestone since it acquired the mining operation in 2016.

“Through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to BLM, we have obtained documents showing that RMI has been mining and selling large quantities of ‘common variety’ limestone without the required permit and sales contract,” Peterson said.

RMI sales receipts show that for the 15 months from October 2016 through December 2017, along with May and June of 2018, RMI produced more than 2,150 truckloads of rock, Peterson said. Nearly 60 percent of all sales were road base, riprap, backfill and other common variety products delivered to local contractors.

The Citizens’ Alliance further requested that BLM release the reports for RMI’s other sales in 2018 and through 2019. To date, BLM has refused to provide those documents.

“BLM has allowed RMI to extract tons of common variety limestone from our public lands, at the public’s expense, for more than three years,” Peterson said. “BLM has bent its own longstanding rules in allowing this, favoring the profit-making needs of a single company over the broader public interest. BLM is violating the law, and it needs to be stopped.”

A copy of the complaint filed in U.S. District Court can be downloaded here.

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