USA: Senate passes huge Arizona copper mine

Date of publication: 
15 December 2014

The United States Senate has passed a controversial land swap deal, paving the way for the country’s largest copper mine to move forward, following close to a decade of roadblocks by Washington.

Senators passed the measure by 89 votes to 11 on Friday, just ahead of their Christmas recess.

The $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 is a “must-pass” piece of legislation that Congress moves every year. This year, however, the bill became controversial when lawmakers used it as a way to pass a massive public lands package, the Huffington Post explained:

“Many of the land measures were popular. But one, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, had twice failed to win support in the House of Representatives, blocked both by conservationists and conservatives.”

The deal now allows mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to jointly build a massive copper mine in the state as part of a deal with the U.S. Government. The bill allows Rio to acquire 2,400 acres of the federally protected Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state.

Both miners have said they expect operations at their Resolution Copper project —55%-45% owned by Rio and BHP— to start as early as 2020. But they have had to deal with legal hurdles and opposition by the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other southwestern nations, who claim the massive project would weaken the ground beneath their sacred Native American lands.

Resolution Copper, located in Arizona’s famous Copper Corridor, is expected to create 3,700 direct and indirect jobs and bring more than $6o billion in economic benefits to the state over its 66-year life. Rio and BHP estimate that output from the mine will meet 25% of the U.S. total demand, which will make it North America’s largest copper mine

Resolution Copper Mining – Mine Plan of Operations from Resolution Copper on Vimeo –


Defense Bill Passes, Giving Sacred Native American Sites To Mining Company

Huffington Post

12 December 2014

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed a measure authorizing the nation’s defense programs Friday, and along with it managed to give lands sacred to Native Americans to a foreign company that owns a uranium mine with Iran.

The $585 billion National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 is one of the must-pass pieces of legislation that Congress moves every year. But like they did in attaching extraneous riders to the must-pass government funding bill, lawmakers used the defense bill as a vehicle to pass a massive public lands package.

The bill sailed through on a vote of 89 to 11.

Many of the land measures were popular. But one, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, had twice failed to win support in the House of Representatives, blocked both by conservationists and conservatives.

The deal gives a subsidiary of the Australian-English mining firm Rio Tinto 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in exchange for several other parcels so it can mine a massive copper deposit.

The Iran connection comes from a uranium mine in Namibia, in which Tehran has owned a 15 percent stake since the days of the shah.

Rio Tinto, which removed Iran’s two members of the mine board in 2012, has argued that Iran gets no benefit from the property, that there is no active partnership, and that it has discussed the issue with the U.S. State Department to ensure that no sanctions against Iran are violated.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed that officials had discussed the site, but declined to say that they could assure there were no violations of sanctions.

“We are aware of the mine in question and have discussed relevant compliance issues with the company,” the spokesperson said.

The official also declined to say if, as might be expected, Iran would be able to benefit from the mine if Secretary of State John Kerry is successful in negotiations to limit the regime’s nuclear aspirations, and sanctions are lifted. “We are not going to speculate on any hypotheticals,” the official said. A Rio Tinto official also declined to speculate, but noted that under the current sanctions and Namibian law, it’s impossible to buy out Iran’s share or sever the tie.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) mounted a bid to strip the entire lands package from the bill, but secured only 18 votes in his favor.

It’s not only people concerned about any benefit Iran might get who were worried about giving American forest land to a foreign firm that has such a connection.

Native Americans, particularly the Apache tribe in the area, say digging a massive mine under their ancestral lands will destroy sacred ceremonial and burial grounds.

Rio Tinto says it will work closely with the tribes to ensure their concerns are heard, and will work with the U.S. Forest Service to protect the environment.

The measure was added into the NDAA largely thanks to the efforts of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who, along with fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, sees the project as an economic boon that will create 3,700 jobs over several decades.

Flake acknowledged that the deal never would have passed on its own, even as he lamented the process that got it through the Senate.

“It’s never good to see big packages with so many things in them — that’s what we want to get away from,” Flake said. “But it’s been very difficult to move individual pieces of legislation over the last few years.”

In this case, the addition of the Arizona swap and the other land measures were never discussed in public, and were added during secret negotiations between the House and Senate Armed Services Committee. the deal was never publicly revealed until the House started work on passing the entire defense bill last week.

It will become law as soon as President Barack Obama signs it. Rio Tinto, though subsidiary Resolution Copper, will take possession of the land a year later. Although the land will then be private property and federal environmental reviews will no longer be enforceable, the company said in a statement after the measure passed that it would abide by such reviews. It also pledged to be a good neighbor:

“Resolution Copper Mining is pleased that the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with strong bipartisan support. Passage of the legislation means that Resolution Copper can move forward with the development of this world-class ore body which will create approximately 3,700 jobs, generate over $60 billion in economic impact and result in almost $20 billion in state and federal tax payments,” said project director Andrew Taplin.

“There is much more work to be done before commercial mining can begin and Resolution Copper looks forward to working with all stakeholders as we continue to progress through the regulatory review process toward responsible development and operation of a world-class copper mine that will safely produce over 25 percent of the current annual demand for copper in the United States.”

Once the legislation is signed into law by President Obama, Resolution Copper will focus on the comprehensive environmental and regulatory review under NEPA, where there will be broad public consultation, government-to-government consultation with Arizona Native American tribes and a comprehensive valuation appraisal of the copper deposit as required by Congress.

Resolution Copper plans to work to expand existing partnerships and create new ones with neighboring communities and Native American Tribes. The company will endeavor to hire locally and regionally whenever possible.

The heart of the legislation is the exchange of 2,400 acres of federally owned land above the copper deposit for 5,300 acres of land owned by Resolution Copper composed of valuable recreational, conservation and culturally significant land throughout Arizona. Congressional leaders made significant improvements to the legislation to address community, environmental and tribal concerns. These changes include provisions for completion of a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prior to the exchange of title, extraordinary protections for historic Apache Leap, and safe access to the Oak Flat Campground after the exchange has been completed.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post.


San Carlos Apache Leader Seeks Senate Defeat of Copper Mine on Sacred Land

Gale Courey Toensing

8 December 2014

The leader of the San Carlos Apache Tribe is asking the Senate not to vote on the annual National Defense Authorization Act until a provision that would allow a massive copper mining project on sacred land is removed.

The House approved a bill on December 4 that gives 2,400 acres of sacred Apache land to a giant international mining corporation, then sent it to the Senate for a fast vote in a process that won’t allow amendments to be made. The Senate is expected to act on it this week.

The land swap bill, called the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013 (H.R. 687), was attached as a rider to the annual must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) along with several other land-related bills.

If approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama, the land swap legislation will allow Resolution Copper Co., a subsidiary of the controversial international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, to acquire 2,400 acres of the federally protected public land in the Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state. Resolution Copper plans a massive deep underground copper mine using a technique called block caving in which a shaft is drilled more than a mile deep into the earth and the material is excavated without any reinforcement of the extraction area. Block caving leaves the land above vulnerable to collapse.

San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler is hoping – and praying – that won’t happen. He’s also organizing a publicity blitz and grassroots movement to stop the transfer of the land.

Is it possible?

“It may seem impossible but our elders have taught us not to lose faith in the power of prayer and of course prayer will be there to help guide us through, but as far as a strategy, we know it’s going to take a grassroots effort and a lot of awareness in the public eye to see our side of the story and that’s what we need to get out there,” Rambler told ICTMN.

As part of the effort, Rambler urges people to sign onto a White House petition, Stop the Apache Land Grab, and spread the word. In addition, Rambler asks readers to call or email your senators and tell them to refuse to vote – or vote no – on the NDAA until the bill to destroy the Apache sacred site is removed. Contact information for senators is here.

The 2,400-acre land – part of San Carlos Apache’s aboriginal territory – is beautiful as well as sacred. It is a varied landscape of forests, streams, desert, grasslands, craggy mountains, and huge rock formations with ancient petroglyphs. It includes Oak Flats and nearby Apache Leap – a cliff from which Apaches jumped to their death to avoid being killed by settlers in the late 19th century – and Devil’s Canyon. The San Carlos Apaches and other Native people conduct ceremonies, gather acorns – their main food staple – and medicinal plants there. The now public land is held in trust by the federal government and is also used by non-Native nature lovers for hiking, camping, bird watching and rock climbing, and is used for field trips by Boy Scout groups.

The copper mine project is widely opposed. A broad coalition of southwestern tribal nations and Indian country in general, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, who say the mine will devastate the water that feeds the area’s aquifers, have thwarted Rio Tinto’s efforts to acquire the land over the past decade. Both the National Congress of American Indians and the United South and Eastern Tribes have passed resolutions opposing the land swap and mining proposal.

In May 2006, the San Carlos Apache council passed a resolution opposing the land swap on intertwined religious and environmental grounds, citing tribal, state and federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Executive Order 13007—Protection of Indian Sacred Sites. But once the land is transferred into private hands these protective laws no longer apply.

The land swap proponents say the bill was amended to address these tribal concerns about sacred areas and the environment, but that’s not the case, Rambler said.

“Despite changes to require consultation with affected tribes and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance, the provision still mandates the transfer of tribal sacred areas into the private ownership of Resolution Copper regardless of the results of the consultation or information and recommendations resulting from the NEPA process,” Rambler said. “A mandatory conveyance defeats the purpose of tribal consultations and the NEPA process that are designed to help provide information before decisions are made. In [the land swap bill] the outcome is pre-determined, rendering tribal views and public comments meaningless. Further, [it] would not require Resolution Copper to mitigate impacts on tribal sacred areas after conveyance and contains no repercussions/penalties on Resolution Copper for harm/destruction to tribal sacred areas.”

The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act is “business-as-usual,” ICTMN columnist Steve Newcomb commented. “This legislation, with its Orwellian title, demonstrates perfectly the United States’ lack of sincerity when it comes to ‘implementing’ the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and when it comes to protecting the sacred and culturally sensitive places of our original nations,” Newcomb said. “It’s business-as-usual for the United States when it comes to corporatizing such sensitive areas on behalf of foreign corporations such as Rio Tinto. Clearly, this is but one more example of the impact of the doctrine of Christian discovery and domination.”

The Obama administration, however, does not support the land swap or copper mine. On Saturday (December 6) Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell criticized the last minute addition of the land swap bill and other legislation that would create six new national parks and 14 National Heritage Areas to the NDAA, the Washington Post reported.

Of the Tonto National Forest land swap, Jewell said, “I think that is profoundly disappointing.” She said she was happy to see the other land bills make progress, but “The preference on public lands bills is that they go through a typical process of public lands bills and they get debate and discussion.”

Rambler said the land swap bill was added to the must pass NDAA because it would never pass otherwise. “Because of all the years of education we’ve been doing we gained a lot of support and convinced enough Republicans that this is a bad deal for Apaches, Arizona and America. The bill wouldn’t pass if it were to go through the regular process of discussion and debate.”

Sen. Jon McCain (R-AZ) has been the lead supporter over the years of Rio Tinto’s efforts to acquire the land. McCain was instrumental in attaching the land swap bill into the NDAA at the last minute, according to the Huffington Post.

The giant mining company and its subsidiary have spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress and making donations to legislators including McCain, according to the Federal Elections Commission, and Open Secrets.

The fact that Rio Tinto is followed by a trail of controversy apparently does not concern the copper mine’s supporters. Earlier this year, protesters and unions from around the world heavily criticized the mining behemoth over alleged lapses in safety leading to the deaths of 41 people and a string of claimed environmental abuses, the Guardian reported. Native Papuan people and others protesting against the deaths of 33 people who perished when a tunnel collapsed in a gold mine in Indonesia complained of Rio Tinto’s alleged human rights and environmental abuses in Madagascar, Australia, Namibia and the U.S.

Rambler said he hopes the Senate will have “the sense” to reject the NDAA until the land swap bill is removed. “This land is where we go to pray, it’s where we have our sunrise ceremony, our coming of age ceremony. It’s where we get our food and where the Creator God put our water resources and there’s going to be a hole there over an area of two miles in circumference,” Rambler said. “And that’s what we’ll leave our children – not just Apache children but all the children of the white people, the Mexicans, the African Americans who live there. That’s what we’ll leave all our children.”

If the Senate passes the bill, Rambler said he hopes Obama will have “the courage” to veto it. “I would like him to have the confidence to know that if he does veto it that it won’t be overridden.” It would take 67 votes in the Senate and a two-thirds majority of the House to veto-proof the bill.

But the San Carlos Apaches’ struggle won’t end until the sacred land is protected, Rambler said. “Even if this passes we’re still going to fight it any way that we can,” he said.


57 Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Urge Senate to Nix Sacred Land Giveaway

Gale Courey Toensing

12 December 2014

More than 70 tribal nations have urged the U.S. Senate to defeat or remove a section of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that would transfer a part of the publicly-owned Tonto National Forest that is sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe to a giant international corporation for a massive, environmentally devastating copper mine.

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), a non-profit Oregon-based organization with 57 member tribes, and the 16-member Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association (GPTCA), have each asked senators not to enact Section 3003, the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, of the annual must pass defense bill. The GPTCA’s letter is available here. The tribes’ actions are in solidarity with San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler, who has launched a grassroots campaign to defeat the land swap measure.

“If such a land transfer provision seems out of place in a defense bill, that’s because it is. If the idea of transferring the ownership of federal forest lands to foreign mining companies seems absurd, it’s because that’s true, too,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation and ATNI and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians.

The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act is a House bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ). It was tacked on to the annual must-pass NDAA along with several other land-related bills by Sen, John McCain (R-AZ), according to the Huffington Post. The House approved the land swap bill December 4 and sent it on to the Senate for a vote. If approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama, the land swap provision will allow Resolution Copper Co., a subsidiary of the controversial international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto, to acquire 2,400 acres of the federally protected public land in the Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state. The United Kingdom-based privately-owned global mining corporation reported earnings of copy 0.2 billion in 2013, a 10 percent increase over the previous year.

Resolution Copper plans a massive deep underground copper mine on the San Carlos Apache’s sacred landscape and has already begun drilling the shaft in anticipation of the land swap bill’s approval.

Letters were sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the chairs and vice chairs of the Senate Armed Forces and Indian Affairs committees December 9, asking that the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act be stricken from the NDAA, ATNI contact Steve Robinson said in a media release.

Sharp noted that the land swap is strongly opposed by tribes, tribal organizations, and other governments and groups from across the country, “and for very good reasons,” she said. “This action, of transferring land out of federal ownership removes it from the Federal Trust Responsibility, which, along with treaty rights, is a primary way the tribes have left to protect our traditional lands from being destroyed.”

Referring to Indian country’s decade-long effort to keep the Apache’s sacred landscape out of the hands of the mining company, Sharp said, “We have had to fight this effort before, and we will keep on fighting it.”

The ATNI passed a resolution opposing the land transfer bill in 2011. There were several efforts to move it last year, but a large bipartisan group of members of the House twice pulled the land swap legislation consideration. “The Land Exchange cannot pass Congress on its own merits,” Sharp said. “Attaching this provision as a rider to NDAA represents the antithesis of democracy.”

Sharp said that the proposed giveaway of tribal sacred areas to foreign corporations “constitutes a violation of trust and a slap in the face of our veterans, past and present. These are sacred lands. All land is sacred to us, but this exchange includes a place of worship known as Oak Flat, which has particularly significant religious, cultural, historical, and archeological value to tribes in the region. The land is eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act.”

But once the land is privatized it is no longer protected by federal laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Executive Order 13007— Protection of Indian Sacred Sites.

The land swap act also sets a bad precedent, Sharp points out, because it does not allow for any meaningful consultation with tribes and mandates the land transfer within one year of its passage without any studies or environmental impact assessments.

“As if that’s not enough, Resolution Copper would develop a copper mine that will forever destroy the tribes’ religious practices by irrevocably harming the region’s water supply and quality,” Sharp said. “At what point do human rights and justice stop taking a backseat to profiteering in this country?”

The ATNI was formed in 1953 and is the largest regional Indian organization in the country dedicated to tribal sovereignty and self-determination. ATNI represents tribal governments from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Northern California, Southeast Alaska, and Western Montana.