Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee
Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who has for many years highlighted the need for federal tribal consultation before moving forward with the Resolution Copper mining project in central Arizona, today hailed the news that the U.S. Forest Service is withdrawing its final environmental impact statement and draft record of decision issued on January 15 and will conduct a thorough review before proceeding any further with the preparation of new analyses at the site. Grijalva spoke at a March 12, 2020, Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States hearing on the issue and has led numerous lawmaker letters to the Trump and Biden administrations urging them to take the step announced today.
“This fight has never been about just one site — it’s been about ending the cycle of ignoring tribal input whenever it suits polluters,” Grijalva said today. “The Trump administration rushed this document out the door as just one more favor to industry, regardless of how legally or scientifically unsupportable it was. The Biden administration is doing the right thing with this reset, and I intend to reintroduce the Save Oak Flat Act in the coming days to make sure this needless controversy is settled on the side of justice once and for all.”
“This is the right move by the Department of Agriculture,” said Chairman Terry Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. “The Resolution copper mine project will desecrate Chich’il Bildagoteel, also known as Oak Flat, which is the heart of our religious and cultural beliefs. As noted in our federal lawsuit, the U.S. Forest Service failed to follow the law in the preparation of a sham final environmental impact statement that was used to justify trading away our sacred land to wealthy foreign mining companies.”
Grijalva and colleagues sent a letter most recently to acting Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Shea on the issue on Feb. 19, 2021. Grijalva has been leading on the issue since the insertion of an unrelated provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act mandating the federal government transfer 2,422 acres of Tonto National Forest land to Resolution Copper — a joint venture by international mining conglomerates BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto — in exchange for less valuable land elsewhere.
The Resolution Copper project is known to put a sacred tribal area known as Apache Leap in danger of subsidence and severe damage. A new environmental impact statement, Grijalva said, must include significant tribal consultation that accounts for the project’s risks and takes them seriously.