Permitting Process

An Overview of the Permitting Process

Phosphate mining is one of the most regulated industrial activities in Florida. Before any mining may begin, all necessary permits must be secured from local, state and federal governments. Before approval of a project is granted, the process allows public input at each regulatory level and requires approval or review from all of the regulatory agencies illustrated in the diagram below.

Mosaic Mine Graphic

Length of Process

The most recent new phosphate mine operation to be successfully permitted in Florida opened in 1995. In recent years, permitting efforts focused on extensions to existing mine operations. Extension permits have taken an average of 5-7 years to work through the regulatory process. Litigation brought by various interest groups has, at times, added an additional 1-2 years to the permitting process. When compared to peer nations with comparable natural resources, mine permitting in the United States is a much longer process. In a 2011 study of mining industries in 25 resource rich countries, Behre Dolbear, a global mineral industry advisory firm, ranked the United States as the worst country for delays in the mine permitting process.

Required Permits

FEDERAL PERMITS

404 / Dredge & Fill Permits

At the federal level, phosphate mining is regulated by the US Army Corps of Engineers through Section 404 Clean Water Act permits, also known as a dredge and fill permit. The Corps maintains jurisdiction over all federally jurisdictional wetlands, streams and water bodies. Any activity that will disturb federal waters requires a 404 permit. Federal law sets strict standards for avoiding and minimizing impacts to federal waters, and, when unavoidable, requires sufficient mitigation to ensure the function of those waters is not lost from the watershed.

During the permitting process, the Corps must consult with other federal agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (to address issues related to federally threatened and endangered species) and any other applicable federal agencies.

The Clean Water Act was designed to provide checks and balances within the permitting process; ensuring that one agency does not hold sole authority over waters of the U.S. As such, the U.S. EPA has a strong oversight role in the permitting process and, by law, possesses legal authority to veto 404 permits issued by the Corps in certain circumstances.

STATE PERMITS

At the state level, phosphate mining is regulated through multiple processes, which, in many cases, also receive federal oversight.

Environmental Resource Permit

Environmental Resource Permits (ERP) are the state’s primary regulatory tool for phosphate mining. The ERP contains strict requirements that govern the mine’s operation from initial construction until the last acre is reclaimed and released after reaching maturity. In addition to regulating mining activities, the state ERP also secures permanent protection, through conservation easements, of flood plain areas important to the watershed.

The ERP considers and regulates the following:

  • Financial Responsibility
  • Water quality protection
  • Groundwater and surface water monitoring
  • Hydrology
  • Historical / archaeological resources that may be present on-site
  • Wetland, stream and upland disturbances
  • Clay settling area construction, operation and reclamation
  • Environmental reporting
  • Schedules and mine operations
  • Wildlife management
  • Dragline/Utility crossings
  • Wetland & stream mitigation and reclamation construction standards
  • Acre for acre / type for type wetland reclamation requirements
    • Upland reclamation
    • Release criteria for reclamation
    • Conservation easement requirements

Once a complete application is received by DEP, the agency solicits comments from other state agencies including the Departments of State and Transportation and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to review issues that overlap regulatory jurisdictions.

Water Use

Water use permits are issued by Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and apply broad requirements to all of Mosaic’s operations. These permits are much more complex than a standard well permit and place well-defined restrictions and requirements on Mosaic’s water use. Those restrictions and requirements pertain to many issues including quantity and quality, maintaining off-site ground water levels and water conservation.

Water Discharge

When rain falls on disturbed land it can become muddy or turbid. This turbidity can be harmful to downstream water-bodies if the turbid water is allowed to enter the environment outside of the mine property. To safeguard the surrounding streams and ecosystems, rainfall on the mine property is captured, collected and then discharged back into the watershed from permitted discharge points called outfalls. These outfalls are continually monitored for water quality to ensure that the water released from the mine meets or exceeds state water quality standards. These permits are issued through a program administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with oversight and veto authority resting with the U.S. EPA.

Air Permits

Air permits for dust emissions related to a mine’s washer system are issued through the Florida DEP under the US Clean Air Act. This program is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental protection (DEP) with oversight and veto authority resting with the U.S. EPA.

Wildlife Management

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) requires management plans to be filed and approved for any protected species found on mine properties. In cooperation with FWC, Mosaic has pioneered science for moving several listed species to more suitable habitat, including the Florida scrub jay and burrowing owls.

LOCAL PERMITS

In addition to being subject to the same local land and environmental regulations as other land owners, phosphate mining is also subject to additional regulation by local governments. County governments maintain their own ordinances that specifically govern phosphate mining and apply regulatory requirements beyond those enforced at other regulatory levels. While these ordinances differ from county to county, they typically regulate the following items:

  • Financial responsibility
  • Schedules and mine operations
  • Environmental reporting
  • Upland and wetland release criteria
  • Preservation requirements
  • Dragline/Utility right-of-way crossings
  • Clay settling area construction, operation and reclamation
  • Noise
  • Setbacks from right of ways and private property