A federal judge has withdrawn approval for a phosphate mining project in southeastern Idaho due to insufficient consideration of its impact on sage grouse, which has seen an 80% decline in population since 1965. Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s decision came five months after he found fault with the way the U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the Caldwell Canyon Mine in 2019. Three environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, and WildEarth Guardians, sued the P4 Production LLC, a subsidiary of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG that proposed the mine. The federal agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws on several counts, including failing to consider the indirect effects of processing ore at a nearby plant and the cumulative impacts on sage grouse, whose population has dramatically declined over its habitat in 11 Western states. The mine would have included two new open mine pits to extract phosphate ore, resulting in the disturbance of about 1,550 acres of previously undeveloped land nearly 300 miles southeast of Boise.
Winmill’s decision vacated both the mine’s approval and environmental analysis and any other decision relying on those documents. In their statement, Bayer AG said that they believe the court’s decision was excessive and would assess their next steps, which could include an appeal. The company plans to have the mine operational in the next few years. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not respond immediately for comment.
The mine would result in the production of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world, with ore taken by truck or rail to a nearby processing plant. Bayer acquired Monsanto, the herbicide’s original producer, in 2018 and is facing thousands of claims from people who believe Roundup exposure caused cancer.
An attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity criticized the mine, saying, “This strip mine would’ve cut through the heart of crucial habitat for greater sage grouse and other species just to produce an herbicide.” Bayer began transitioning glyphosate out of its U.S. residential lawn and garden products this year and using other ingredients to reduce future litigation risks. Agriculture and professional products with glyphosate will not be changed, and the company said it stands behind the safety of its glyphosate products.