By The Signal Editorial Board
Never count Cemex out.
Ever. That’s the lesson to be drawn from the news that Cemex, the multinational mining giant, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to cancel Cemex’s contracts to mine 56.1 million tons of sand and gravel in Soledad Canyon, right on Santa Clarita’s eastern doorstep.
In March, we reported that the Interior Board of Land Appeals had rejected Cemex’s challenge to the 2015 BLM decision. The IBLA is the first place Cemex could have turned to overturn the BLM decision, and that appeal process dragged out over the course of several years — a delay that, in some ways, was a blessing for local opponents of the mine, which include the city of Santa Clarita.
To oversimplify the complex 48-page IBLA ruling, it essentially upheld one of Cemex’s contracts and left the other one intact — but that contract expires in July 2020. So, it left Cemex basically no time to finish the planning and entitlement process to begin any meaningful mining.
In March, mine opponents celebrated the death of the Cemex plan. But at the time, we posited the question, “Could Cemex still seek another form of legal recourse before its time runs out?”
That answer is yes.
In May, Cemex filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, naming the Department of the Interior, the IBLA, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as defendants.
The mining company alleges the BLM and IBLA rulings illegally denied Cemex its contractual rights.
“Defendants have unlawfully deprived Cemex of its valuable rights to mine and produce minerals under two contracts with the United States,” the complaint alleges. “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 defendants, in their July 15 response, countered that 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.”
It bears noting that Santa Clarita is not a defendant in this case, but it of course extends the city’s two-decade battle to protect the community from the mine’s negative impacts. Among them are the effects the mining would have on local air quality, water supply, traffic and the environment.
Will Cemex succeed in its pursuit of legal relief? Could Cemex’s success be measured in terms of actual mining in Soledad Canyon, or will it result in some other form of restitution for the mining giant?
Those things remain to be seen, and may take years to play out in federal court. But make no mistake: It’s not over.