Bayer phosphate mine imperils sage-grouse habitat, says judge

Bayer Mexico plant in Lerma
REUTERS/Henry Romero
  • A Bayer subsidiary's mining project could damage sage grouse habitat, judge determines
  • Phosphate is key ingredient in Bayer's Roundup weedkiller

(Reuters) - Bureau of Land Management approvals for a Bayer phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho failed to adequately analyze how the project might damage the habitat of an endangered species of bird, a federal judge has found.

Environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Watersheds Project claimed in their 2021 lawsuit that the approvals for two open pit mines and associated infrastructure such as access roads violated federal environmental laws by skimming over potential environmental impacts. Those included harm to the Greater Sage-Grouse and concerns the approvals will prolong the life of a processing plant with a history of contaminating groundwater with heavy metals.

The judge did not indicate whether he was remanding the environmental review for further consideration by the government or vacating it.

The mine would provide ore that would be processed into the herbicide glyphosate, a key ingredient in Bayer’s Roundup weedkiller, which is itself the subject of extensive litigation.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Tuesday granted summary judgment to the environmental groups after finding several instances where the government violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider whether the new mine would make the grouse's extinction more likely and how the mine would contribute to environmental burdens already posed by other mines in the area.

Bayer spokesperson Kyel Richard said the company is reviewing the decision and "will await the court's ruling on remedies."

A BLM spokesperson declined to comment.

The Greater Sage-Grouse is found throughout the American West and is listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bird and others like it have been at the heart of recent environmental litigation.

“Sage grouse and Idahoans have already lost so much from the unfettered expansion of phosphate mining and processing in this area,” said Hannah Connor of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement.

The mining project by Bayer subsidiary P4 Production LLC would cover roughly 1,559 acres of undeveloped land in an area of Idaho known for phosphate production. The mineral is a key component of fertilizers and can be used to produce various other products such as animal feed, metal finishing, aviation fluids and toothpaste. The mine would replace a nearby phosphate mine known as the Blackfoot Bridge Mine, which P4 has said will soon be depleted.

The case is Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. United States Bureau of Land Management et al., United States District Court for the District of Idaho, No. 4:21-cv-00182.

For CBD: Hannah Connor of the Center for Biological Diversity, Claire Tonry of Smith & Lowney, and Laurence "Laird" Lucas of the Advocates for the West

For the government: Paul Turcke and Shannon Boylan of the United States Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division

For Bayer: Alison Hunter, Murray Feldman and William Myers of Holland & Hart

(NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the judge did not toss the approvals, and did not provide a remedy.)

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