PHOENIX, Ariz. — The San Carlos Apache Tribe and a coalition of community and environmental groups filed two related lawsuits in federal court today challenging a proposal to destroy public land on the Tonto National Forest near the Superstition Mountains with a network of roads, trenches, and drilling sites for a mine waste site for the proposed copper mine at Oak Flat and Apache Leap.
The lawsuits assert that the Forest Service violated several environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, and failed to consider the significant harmful impacts of the activities associated with the Resolution Copper Mine, including destruction of cultural sites, loss of recreational opportunities, impaired water quality, and more.
“The Resolution Copper Mining operation will destroy dozens of cultural sites sacred to Arizona tribes, all while threatening the region’s water resources,” said San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler. “Federal authorities seem more focused on the interests of a foreign mining company. It’s appalling that we and other citizens must use our resources to protect lands that should be safeguarded. Our complaint addresses only the mine tailings at this time, but we will be using all means necessary to stop the overall devastation that will be caused by Resolution Copper.”
The extensive drilling project is authorized for ten years and covers over twenty-eight square miles. The project includes thirty-eight geotechnical drill sites, excavation of thirty-two test trenches, sixteen hydrological testing and monitoring wells, two laydown yards for storage of materials and heavy equipment, and construction of seven new roads on public land. The project’s network of roads will bisect the Arizona National Scenic Trail in at least two places. At least five of the project’s drill sites and trenching operations will be within ½ mile of the Arizona Trail. The project would occur on lands where Resolution Copper Mining LLC (“Resolution”), a joint venture between two of the world’s largest metal mining companies – Australia-based BHP Billiton and London-based Rio Tinto — proposes to construct a large tailings waste storage facility for its Resolution Copper Mine, one of the largest proposed copper mines in the country.
“Once again, the Forest Service allows international mining giants to destroy our public lands for corporate profit,” said Roger Featherstone, director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. “If the Forest Service fails to follow the rules to protect our public lands and our communities, we have no choice but to go to the courts to force them to do their job.”
“We know that many Arizona residents have not been fully informed about the proposed mine plan or about the damaging environmental consequences of the project,” said Roy Chavez, Chairperson, Concerned Citizens & Retired Miners Coalition. “In considering the conveyance of public lands to the private sector, the Forest Service must conduct studies and analyses to include environmental impacts, effects on wildlife and vegetation, and acknowledgement and consideration of current public use of public lands and their importance to the community. The Forest Service has failed to do that with this aspect of the mine proposal.”
“BHP’s Samarco joint venture catastrophically spilled mining waste last year, killing more than a dozen,” said Earthworks policy advocate Aaron Mintzes. “The Forest Service’s illegal fast track of any part of BHP’s Resolution Copper joint venture is absurd. The site of Resolution Copper’s mining waste dump needs stronger environmental review, not weaker.”
“Clearly the Forest Service would prefer not to take a hard look at the cumulative impacts of this proposal,” said Bill Snape, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fortunately the law requires them to do so, and the people have the power to compel them to follow the law.”
“We’re challenging this project due to our concerns about the serious negative impacts this and the associated mine and tailings will have on our public lands, specifically the Tonto National Forest,” said Don Steuter, conservation chair for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “The Forest Service is rubber stamping this project without considering the total and combined impacts, in violation of numerous federal public land and environmental laws. That’s just wrong.”
“Resolution wants to bury one of the finest examples of Upper Sonoran Desert habitat, combining exceptional beauty and variety, under mine waste” said Maricopa Audubon Society’s President Mark Larson. “Generations of future Arizonans will be horrified if we allow that to happen.”
The Tribe is represented by the San Carlos Apache Tribe Attorney General’s Office. The conservation groups are represented in this lawsuit by the Western Mining Action Project, a public-interest law firm.
For More Information
- Matt Smith, San Carlos Apache Tribe, 520-321-1111
- Roger Featherstone, Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, (520) 777-9500, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter, (602) 253-8633, email@example.com
- Aaron Mintzes, Earthworks (919) 302-6393, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bill Snape, Center for Biological Diversity (202) 536-9351
- Roy Chavez, Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners, (520) 827-9133
- Mark Horlings, Maricopa Audubon Society, (602) 505-3455 or email@example.com
- Roger Flynn, Western Mining Action Project (303) 823-5738