Feds respond to new Cemex lawsuit

Abandoned equipment stands at the Cemex site in Canyon Country. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Within months after the city of Santa Clarita and mining opponents declared victory in the decades-long battle with Cemex due to a government ruling, international mining conglomerate Cemex has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the decision.

Click here for a link to a timeline on Cemex.

In March, the Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled that one of Cemex’s two 10-year contracts was invalid and the second contract expires in July 2020. Due to the time necessary to secure the proper permits and infrastructure for the mine, city officials and other government leaders considered the decision a win, and the matter, for all intents and purposes, resolved.

“After being elected, I met with (city officials) and thought this is something we can help with,” said Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, who sent a letter to the BLM days before the long-awaited decision was announced, back in March. “There’s no way that Cemex can continue to move forward in the next two years. This means that we’ve won.” 

However, a lawsuit filed May 1 by Cemex is questioning the “win” on the grounds of the decision by the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which handles appeals for Department of Interior decisions. Cemex sued the U.S. Department of Interior, the IBLA, the Secretary of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management, asking to “vacate” the IBLA and BLM decisions, which the lawsuit describes as “unlawful.” 

The federal government filed its response July 15, answering to each of the claims, noting admissions and denials regarding the allegations in Cemex’ complaint.

In its response, the defendants contend Cemex “failed to act in good faith,” “unilaterally modified the contracts,” “misrepresented to BLM that it continued to secure the permits needed to begin mining operations,” and that it “misled BLM by failing to disclose its intent to enter the truce agreement with the city of Santa Clarita.” 

Cemex, in the lawsuit, alleges its mining rights have been illegally deprived.

“Defendants have unlawfully deprived Cemex of its valuable rights to mine and produce minerals under two contracts with the United States,” reads a section of the complaint. “The BLM, after repeatedly making clear that the production periods under the contracts had not begun to run, abruptly reversed course in 2015 and asserted that the production periods had commenced in 2000 — despite the fact that Cemex could not have legally mined at that time because it lacked the necessary regulatory approvals. 

“That decision, and the decision of the IBLA affirming it, were arbitrary and capricious, and violated the Administrative Procedure Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, agency regulations and the Constitution.” 

The complaint also stated that the “(d)efendants unlawfully deprived Cemex of its rights to realize the benefits of its decades of investment in the permitting, litigation defense, and other costs for the project, which total more than ($28 million).” 

For its part, the city of Santa Clarita does not have a response planned, according to Mike Murphy, the city of Santa Clarita’s intergovernmental relations manager and point person on the Cemex battle for the past two decades. Murphy announced his retirement plans in June, and his retirement becomes effective Friday.

“I don’t believe the city is going to participate in the litigation in any way between Cemex and the Department of Interior over the appeals decision and early decision to cancel the contracts,” he said. “There’s nothing new in this suit that we have not seen before in terms of the arguments that Cemex made. It’s just moved the same arguments onto a new venue.

“Our attorneys have looked at both the filing and response and they have advised us that this is a multi-year process.” 

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste said she wasn’t surprised by the move, adding City Council was on summer recess until the last week of August, and that the city planned to “stay consistent.”

 “We’re on hiatus, so there’s nothing going on right now that the City Council is working on. It’s predictable that (Cemex) would disagree with the decision but litigation is a normal process,” she said. “We will stay consistent and persistent and will continue to do our job for the community.”

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