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. Permitting our mining operations is a long and complex process—and one that is often misunderstood.
A common misperception is that permits are obtained by simply submitting a form to regulators. The process is much more involved than that. It takes an average of five to seven years to navigate the entire permitting process for a phosphate mining project.
As an example, permitting for Mosaic’s South Fort Meade Extension was initiated in 2003 and mining was finally able to commence in 2012. The administrative record (meaning all information submitted in relation to the permit application) for the federal permit was more than 250,000 pages.
Preparation for the permitting process often begins when a piece of property is purchased. To develop the information necessary to permit a property for mining, monitoring and data collection must begin as early as possible. Mosaic monitors groundwater levels, surface water flows, and wildlife. Surveys are conducted and analyzed along with analysis of historic and present aerial photos and LIDAR data. Through the use of these tools, Mosaic is able to develop accurate boundaries for floodplains and identify the jurisdiction of any wetlands present on the site. Wildlife surveys assist in the future development of wildlife management plans that will accompany the mining permit application. All of this collected data is vital to creating successful reclamation plans that restore the hydrologic and habitat functions of the land after the phosphate is safely extracted.
Mosaic and prior phosphate companies that owned the Ona Mine property have collected data on the site for more than 50 years. Once sufficient data is collected, Mosaic can initiate the mine permitting process.
Mosaic’s Ona Mine requires permits at all three levels of government.
Mosaic’s Hardee County permitting team, which includes Beth Niec, Mine Permitting Engineer; Scott Mears, Engineer and Bill Brammell, Ecologist, collaborate with departments throughout Mosaic to develop applications for the relevant county, state and federal permits necessary to allow mining. Once applications are developed, the permitting team works with the regulatory agencies to reconcile their varying concerns and priorities to finalize the applications and mine plans.
In addition to the three primary permitting agencies, many other agencies are consulted in the process, depending on the characteristics of the land in question. At the Ona mine, the presence of protected species requires the involvement of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Archaeological surveys are conducted and reviewed by the Florida Department of State’s Florida Division of Historical Resources to ensure that archaeologically significant sites are properly managed. The county, state and federal regulators each issue their own permits that must be secured for a mining to occur. These processes at all three levels are open to public input.
In recent decades, mining activities in the U.S. have become a target for environmental litigation. Few major mining permits are issued in the United States without facing legal challenges from special interest advocacy groups. Due to the multi-layered nature of phosphate mining regulation, all three permits are individually subject to potential legal challenges.
Mosaic supports the public’s role in the permitting process and seeks to create transparency about our projects. In an effort to increase the public’s understanding of Mosaic’s mining projects, we hold community meetings throughout the process and work with residents and organizations countywide to build relationships and understanding through public education efforts.