| By Andrew Fried, SAFE President |
Sept. 3, 2015
It’s a natural reaction. When you have fought so long and so hard to defeat something, and it appears victory is yours, you’re inclined to celebrate.
But most of the published reactions to the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to cancel Cemex’s Soledad Canyon mining contracts have been nothing short of naïve.
Simply put, it’s a little soon to be singing, “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead,” while the witch still has a few flying monkeys circling over Soledad Canyon.
That’s why Safe Action for the Environment is concerned. We’re worried our community will now become complacent, thinking the war is over. Indeed, we’ve won an important battle — but to say this is over would be akin to the Allies successfully storming the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 and declaring ultimate victory.
As history shows, that was an important victory. But the war wasn’t over yet.
Hence, it was at once gratifying and disappointing last week: An important victory was won in the fight to save Soledad Canyon from the dreadful impacts of a massive sand and gravel mine. But on the heels of that victory, an array of local residents, commentators and media outlets immediately proclaimed the mine is dead, the war is won, Soledad Canyon and the community are saved.
Not so fast, everyone.
While we applaud your enthusiasm — and we’re thrilled that after 20 years, we’re all still on the same side in opposition to the massive mine Cemex has wanted to develop in Soledad Canyon — it’s alarming to see folks declaring ultimate victory when it’s very clear the last shot has not been fired.
Anyone who carefully reads last week’s 20-page BLM decision will recognize Cemex still has at least a couple of avenues of recourse, should the multinational mining giant decide that it disagrees with the BLM’s decision to cancel the contracts.
According to the decision, signed by James G. Kenna, state director of the BLM, “These decisions may be appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, Office of the Secretary, in accordance with the regulations contained in 43 CFR, Part 4, and the enclosed form 1842-l. If an appeal is taken, your notice of appeal must be filed in this office (at the above address) within 30 days from receipt of this decision. The appellant has the burden of showing that the decisions appealed from are in error.”
So, Cemex can appeal the decision administratively, and that’s just the first step in what could be a lengthy dispute. Any savvy observer would expect that Cemex just might disagree with the BLM’s decision, which contends in large part that the Soledad Canyon mining contracts can be canceled by the BLM because Cemex over the past decade and a half has not undertaken its contractually obligated steps toward developing the mine.
The BLM’s decision “rescinding and withdrawing from Mineral Material Contracts 20139 and 22901 as a result of Cemex’s failure to fulfill the requirements necessary to trigger the contract(s)” does not guarantee that Cemex won’t develop the mine, or that Soledad Canyon will be permanently protected from massive mining by an entity other than Cemex.
The BLM’s decision to cancel the mining contracts is certainly a major positive step. The SAFE Board of Directors sincerely appreciates the leadership of elected representatives who have worked so hard to defeat the mine, including U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Reps. Steve Knight, Judy Chu and Brad Sherman, and the Santa Clarita City Council.
However, it’s naïve to assume Cemex will go away quietly. Yet, that’s exactly what our local media and many observers have done, at least initially, in reacting to the cancellation. In an avalanche of press releases, news stories and commentaries that came out immediately after the BLM decision, we saw language proclaiming the mine is “dead,” “killed,” “defeated once and for all,” and more.
But make no mistake: Appeals and other legal procedures can be a crapshoot. Even if Cemex exhausts the administrative appeal processes outlined in the BLM’s decision, the company can ask for reconsideration or seek recourse with either the U.S. Court of Federal Claims or the federal appellate courts.
Again. We applaud the enthusiasm. But please, we’re begging our friends in the community and the local media: Do not fall into complacency. The last word about the Soledad Canyon mine has not yet been said. As one local news article quoted Cemex representative Sara Engdahl: “Cemex remains committed to this project, which we believe is important to the development and infrastructure of the state of California.”
Engdahl further said, as of Friday, Aug. 28, that the mining company had yet to review the BLM decision.
In other words, the clock is ticking. Sometime in the first 30 days after the BLM decision we might see an appeal — and even after that, a lawsuit — in which the supposedly dead mining witch rears up once more, saying, “I’ll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too.”
While we hope Cemex thinks better of it, we must remain ready to continue fighting the good fight. We’ll be ready to celebrate only when — and we hope this comes soon — all possible appeals and legal challenges have been exhausted, and the Soledad Canyon mining witch screams, “I’m melting!”
Until then, it’s a little too soon to click our heels together and say, “There’s no place like home…”
Andrew Fried is president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc.
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