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A few weeks ago, both Earthworks and the San Carlos Apache Tribe filed lawsuits challenging the US Forest Service’s choice to do an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the impacts of work needed to better characterize the publicly-owned lands on which Resolution Copper wants to dump 1.5 billion tons (no, that is not a typo – billions with a B) of mine waste over a half dozen square miles near the San Carlos Apache’s reservation, east of Phoenix, Arizona. The Forest Service chose an EA instead of a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which considers the option of not building the dump.  

If built, this would become the single largest mining waste tailings dump in the United States – some 500 feet deep in some places. To prepare for it, Resolution Copper must blade new roads for drill pads to test the soils and rocks underneath the site.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) states that actions connected to another one must be analyzed together (tailings site and impacts associated with the mine itself), and that a project’s cumulative impact beyond simply the proposed action must also be analyzed (for example, will more mining exploration occur if drill access roads remain open beyond the drilling program?).  But an EA fails to do either. An EIS would do both.  

Meanwhile, the EIS process for the mine itself is moving ahead.  Earthworks and several partner groups recently submitted comprehensive scoping comments for the EIS to the Forest Service, totaling over 100 pages of impacts that must be considered in a draft EIS.  While technically speaking, ground has been broken at the tailings site to study the proposed tailings dump’s substrates and collect baseline geotechnical and hydrologic data, completion of the full mine EIS is years away. In the meantime, we will work to ensure that both Resolution Copper and the Forest Service follow the law under NEPA.

Beyond this, we’ll continue to push for legislation reversing the land exchange that handed thousands of acres of public land considered sacred to the Apache Tribe to two of the world’s largest mining companies, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, and their joint venture Resolution Copper.  And beyond that, we’ll continue working towards federal policy reforms that will finally give the public – especially those who have lived in an area for thousands of years — a say regarding which lands should be mined, and which should not.