October 31, 2013

Victory in Huron Mountain Club

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

The Eagle Mine can continue to move forward, according to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an opinion yesterday in Huron Mountain Club v. United States Army Corps of Engineers.  PLF filed an amicus brief in that case urging the Court of Appeals to reject a wildlife group’s repeated attempts to block the mine from opening.

After the Eagle Mine obtained approval from the State of Michigan to begin construction of a new copper mine in the Upper Peninsula, local environmental group Huron Mountain Club filed a lawsuit to stop the mine.  The Club sued the mine and the Army Corps of Engineers, alleging that the project had to be put on hold until the Corps issued various federal permits, including a Clean Water Act Section 404 “dredge and fill” permit.  There was a problem with the Club’s argument, though—the mine and the Corps agreed that a Section 404 permit is not necessary, because the mine will not discharge dredged or fill material into federally regulated waters.

Nevertheless, the Club argued that it was entitled to an injunction to force the Corps to require the mining company to obtain a Section 404 permit.  The Sixth Circuit rejected the Club’s argument, holding instead that the Corps does not have a duty to order individuals to file permit applications.  The Corps may enforce Section 404 against individuals who fail to obtain permits where they are required, but outside groups cannot make the Corps issue permits when neither the property owner nor the government thinks a permit is necessary.

Yesterday’s ruling undoubtedly provides some relief to the approximately 300 people who have been employed at the mine over the last two years.  Those jobs appear to be safe for now, as the mine continues on the path toward becoming fully operational.

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