Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to withhold publication of a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on proposed copper mining operations in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. These mining operations threaten to violate religious freedoms by permanently destroying Oak Flat, or Chí’chil Biłdagoteel, which is sacred to many tribal communities in Arizona, including the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
READ the full letter to Secretary Vilsack here.
As mandated by a midnight rider in the 2015 must-pass defense spending bill, publication of the FEIS would immediately trigger a land transfer of the Oak Flat area to foreign-owned mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP for development of their Resolution Copper mine. As Grijalva details in his letter, the mining operations would devastate Oak Flat and the area’s natural resources: “If allowed to proceed, Resolution Copper would desecrate Oak Flat’s tribal cultural and religious heritage sites, deplete already scarce water resources in Arizona, adversely impact imperiled species, and create a crater up to 1,115 feet deep and roughly 1.8 miles across.”
Making the destruction particularly egregious, the foreign, Chinese government-backed ownership of Resolution Copper’s parent companies raises serious doubts about any alleged benefits of the mining operation to domestic mineral needs. Grijalva writes, “Nothing is stopping Rio Tinto and BHP from exporting copper mined on U.S. soil to be processed and sold on the global market, largely to the benefit of foreign nations, including the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which is Rio Tinto’s largest shareholder. Resolution Copper provides no guaranteed benefit to the American people or our clean energy industry.” Grijalva’s letter also details both Rio Tinto’s and BPH’s “grievous track records of bad faith and destructive mining practices and human rights violations across at least a half dozen countries.”
In a separate letter sent to Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) yesterday, Grijalva aligned concerns about Rio Tinto’s connections to CCP with comments Chair Westerman made during last week’s debate on Republicans’ H.R. 1, the Polluters Over People Act. As Chair Westerman said, “The way we push back against China and the CCP is we produce our energy and minerals here. And we for sure don’t let China come to America and own any kind of lease on federal lands—or private lands.” Grijalva underscores these comments in his letter and asks Chair Westerman to hold a Committee markup on his Save Oak Flat From Foreign Mining Act, which he introduced again last month.
READ the full letter to Chair Westerman here.
Grijalva’s letter to Secretary Vilsack also urges the Biden administration to uphold its demonstrated commitment to respecting tribal sovereignty and honoring tribal consultation by protecting Oak Flat. Allowing the mine to move forward would enable the backdoor legislative maneuver that mandated the land transfer, effectively endorsing a blatant circumvention of the U.S. government’s trust responsibilities to Indian Country.
Grijalva concludes his letter in stating, “The destruction this mine would cause far outweighs its benefits. Resolution Copper would significantly deplete already scarce water supplies, put wildlife at risk, devastate the Tonto National Forest, and destroy sacred Indigenous sites—all while there is no guarantee the copper produced at this mine would benefit the American people.”