Glenwood Springs Citizens' Alliance v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management

The Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance charges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management with failing to properly regulate mining activity at the Rocky Mountain Industrials’ limestone quarry.

Background

The Rocky Mountain Industrials limestone quarry operates on federally owned public land, under a mining permit issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

In 2018, Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance members observed certain mining activities at the quarry that are not allowed under RMI’s federal mining permit.

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.

From a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to BLM in 2019, the Citizens’ Alliance obtained documents showing that RMI had been mining and selling large quantities of “common variety” limestone without the required BLM mining permit or BLM sales contract.

The Citizens’ Alliance submitted another letter to BLM in February 2020, detailing BLM’s failure to properly regulate RMI’s mining activities. BLM issued a short response, reiterating its decision to allow RMI’s current operations to continue unabated.

In March 2020, the Citizens’ Alliance filed suit against BLM, charging the agency with failing to properly regulate mining activity at the RMI limestone quarry.

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.

“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. 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.” -- Jeff Peterson, Board President, Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance

What has happened so far:

March 10, 2020: GSCA files a lawsuit against BLM in U.S. District Court, contending that BLM has illegally authorized continued mining of common variety minerals.

March 12, 2020: U.S. Department of Justice, representing BLM, files motion to dismiss the case.

May 22, 2020: Garfield County Commissioners file motion to intervene on the side of GSCA. Motion approved on Nov. 2, 2020.

March 24, 2021: GSCA and Garfield County file a request to BLM for various information regarding quarry operations, focused on non-compliance issues.

April 23, 2021: U.S. Department of Justice replies for BLM by objecting to nearly all the requests for information.

July 27, 2021: U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello denies Department of Justice motion to dismiss, but without prejudice, meaning it can be re-filed.

August 31, 2021: Department of Justice re-files motion to dismiss. Briefs arguing for and against dismissal filed in September and October, 2021, by parties in the case.

August 1, 2022: Case reassigned to U.S. District Judge Charlotte N. Sweeney, in light of Judge Arguello’s moving to senior status on the bench.

October 3, 2022: Judge Sweeney calls for oral arguments from both sides on BLM’s re-filed motion to dismiss.

October 26, 2022: GSCA, Garfield County and the U.S. Department of Justice, representing BLM, make oral arguments before Judge Sweeney on BLM’s re-filed motion to dismiss.

November 8, 2022: U.S. District Judge Charlotte N. Sweeney issues a split ruling. In one part, she dismissed GSCA and Garfield County’s claim that the escrow account represents a “final agency action” and is thus subject to challenge. In the other part, she upheld GSCA and Garfield County’s claim that BLM has “unreasonably delayed” its work on a mineral examination of the limestone deposit.

‘Valuable Mineral’ and ‘Common Variety’ limestone

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.

  • High-quality chemical-grade limestone is used for specific purposes, such as to suppress explosive gas in coal mines. It’s considered a “Valuable Mineral,” and is governed by the 1872 Mining Law.
  • Limestone boulders and aggregate are typically used for road base, rip-rap, embankments and construction fill. It’s considered a “Common Variety” and is governed by the 1947 Materials Act and the 1955 Common Varieties Act.

Companies seeking to mine “common variety” limestone must obtain a federal permit for that purpose. They must also 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.

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. Nearly 60 percent of all sales were road base, riprap, backfill and other common variety products delivered to local contractors.

The Citizens’ Alliance recently requested that BLM release the reports for RMI’s  sales from 2020 through 2022.

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